Beginning with Ayn Rand

I have a piece on Ayn Rand in the new IPA Review. I’m reproducing it below with links.

Ayn Rand remains a best-selling author. Nearly thirty years after her death, and over fifty years since publication, her books remain as popular as ever. Just last year The Economist proposed an Atlas Shrugged Index; the sales of her magnum opus tracking events that herald big government. To be sure her two best known books The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged are eerily prescient; her villains especially describe the threats to our freedoms. Her descriptions of second-handers, moochers and looters relate to people and institutions that are readily recognisable.

It is surprising that her books remain so popular in an era of instant gratification. They are long-winded, torturous reads punctuated by gems; her books need a good editing and perhaps shortening. Nonetheless thousands of people each year discover her writing for the first time, and if a long-promised Atlas Shrugged movie comes to the big screen many more millions will discover her work.

While there is steady demand for her books, it seems in recent time that there has been an increase in interest in Rand herself. The classic It usually begins with Ayn Rand by Jerome Tuccille is back in print, while Goddess of the market: Ayn Rand and the American right – a new biography – is selling well. Then there are beginners guides to Rand and many more books to choose from. Yet, for all this attention, it isn’t clear that we should learn anything positive from Rand’s life itself, as opposed to reading and enjoying her books.

Rand apparently loathed Friedrich von Hayek. He was, in her eyes, a socialist. Where he argued that individuals competed for scarce resources, she argued that individuals created resources. From their own perspective each was correct. Individuals do compete for scarce resources, but Hayek had argued that this competition wasn’t the economic problem that markets resolved. Rather markets coordinated diffuse knowledge and information. Rand had as her protagonists innovators who through their own genius and effort created new ideas and products. The entrepreneur is an important character in her thinking as it is in Austrian school economics.

So on economic matters Hayek and Rand may not appear to have had very different views. It is in their philosophy, however, that they are somewhat different. Rand was a utopian. Her homespun philosophy Objectivism lionises logic and reason. Of course, logic and reason are sensible precepts and should be applied when making decisions. But they cannot be the basis of a philosophical system of thought. In this sense, Rand was a Rationalist.

Hayek is critical of Rationalism in his first chapter of the first volume of Law, Legislation and Liberty. Rationalists believe in Human Design; the view that ‘human institutions will serve human purposes only if they have been deliberately designed for those purposes’ and ‘that we should re-design society and its institutions that all our actions will be wholly guided by known purposes’. That known purpose in the Randian sense is the morality of selfishness. In her novels selfishness conquers all; those who selfishly enrich themselves by adding value prevail, while those who selfishly enrich themselves by looting and mooching get unstuck.

That’s all well and good in literature; Rand’s novels are morality plays and the genre is well understood. Living one’s life according to a few axioms of morality, however defined, is a far more complex proposition. Humans have, with more or less some success, evolved rules that govern human interaction. Many of these rules take the form of religion and religious practice; while others are cultural. This implies that there are norms that govern our behaviour that we don’t always understand or that we cannot easily articulate. It is this type of rule that becomes problematic for Rationalists who idealise logic and reason.

Michael Oakeshott was the greatest English speaking conservative philosopher of the twentieth century. He too was very critical of Rationalism. So much so that he has a deliciously amusing back-handed swipe at Hayek’s classic The road to serfdom. Oakeshott suggests that a plan not to plan, while somewhat commendable, is a plan too many. To his way of thinking Hayek falls into a rationalist frame of mind. It is not clear what his views on Rand were.

Oakeshott characterises Rationalists as (social) engineers who engage in constant problem solving and redesign of institutions. There are two other characteristics that Oakeshott emphasises; the politics of perfection and the politics of uniformity. Imperfection, to the Rationalist, is intolerable and rational solutions can always be found for any imperfection. Once those imperfections are eliminated a rational uniformity will prevail. As Oakeshott observes, ‘The modern history of Europe is littered with the projects of the politics of Rationalism’. Writing in 1947, this is something of an understatement.

Rationalism is not self-correcting. Oakeshott makes the argument that Rationalism amounts to a corruption of the mind in that it is fundamentally mistaken about the nature of human knowledge. Rationalists believe ‘the truth’ can be discovered by a single human mind. By contrast Hayek, writing in 1945 (and probably unbeknown to Oakeshott), had argued that knowledge and information was dispersed across individuals. But the problem remains, a Rationalist cannot overcome the inherent error within Rationalism – they cannot solve the Hayekian information problem. Oakeshott argues that Rationalists are ‘ineducable’ – they can only be educated out of their Rationalism.

It is this type of analysis that could explain why Rand disliked Hayek, and probably why he disliked her too. She was stubborn, dogmatic and uncompromising. The underlying philosophical views that informed their worldviews were fundamentally at odds with each other. This then raises the interesting question of overlap within their readership.

Ayn Rand’s novels are particularly popular with libertarians who in turn are often attracted to Austrian school economics. The major economists of that school include Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich von Hayek, and Murray Rothbard. All of these men knew Ayn Rand. She had attended Mises’ New York University seminar in the 1957 – 58 academic year. Both Mises and Rothbard wrote her glowing letters after reading Atlas Shrugged. Rothbard described it as ‘the greatest novel ever written’; while Mises gushed that it was not merely a novel, but ‘a cogent analysis of the evils that plague our society’.

While it isn’t clear what influence their economic theories had on Rand, it is clear that her economic views were largely consistent with those of Mises and Rothbard and probably Hayek too. She places entrepreneurship at the centre of economic prosperity; she has strong views on sound money – favouring the gold standard, and clearly understands the role of property rights in a well functioning economy. The adverse unintended consequences of do-gooders are pitilessly exposed in her novels. She understands that government intervention and excess regulation destroys economic prosperity. She makes a strong argument for firms to be managed in the interests of their owners and not other societal interests. There is much to like in her novels and the economics of her novels are recognisable to readers versed in the Austrian school. But you don’t have to be an Austrian school economist to hold these views.

To enjoy Rand’s novels, even to learn their lessons, without accepting her morality is inconsistent with her Rationalist viewpoint. It is inconsistent with the perfection and uniformity characteristics that Oakeshott describes. In what she might have considered a bitter irony it is consistent with Hayek’s dispersed knowledge theory. It is entirely possible that a novelist can imagine a dystopia and understands the economic consequences of that dystopia and write a best-selling novel based on that understanding without being able to implement their own utopia. In this sense Hayek and Rand and Mises are all compliments to each other and not substitutes. It is possible to understand them all in isolation, but the combination of their work is far more powerful. That is why there is nothing wrong with starting with Ayn Rand, but it should never end with Ayn Rand.

Postscript: Here is Andrew Norton making much the same argument and Peter Boettke on Hayek.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

117 Responses to Beginning with Ayn Rand

  1. Michael Sutcliffe

    In this sense Hayek and Rand and Mises are all compliments to each other and not substitutes. It is possible to understand them all in isolation, but the combination of their work is far more powerful. That is why there is nothing wrong with starting with Ayn Rand, but it should never end with Ayn Rand.

    That’s really quite profound, and very relevant in terms of what needs to be done to progress individualist social thinking and free-market theory to the next level. I think you bring out two very essential points that are holding back progress: 1. Ayn Rand isn’t the be-all and end-all that too many of her students claim; she’s just another thinker, but 2. her thinking is up there with the greats and she is often not afforded her dues.

  2. THR

    I won’t bother getting into extended fisticuffs with libertarians over Rand and the others you cite. I’ll confine my remarks to some brief observations and queries.

    I’m a little surprised that you’d assign Rand to the philosophical tradition of Rationalism. This latter conjures up philosophers such as Spinoza and Leibnitz. I don’t see how Rand could possibly be put in this tradition, especially on the strength of her admiring ‘logic and reason’. Doesn’t virtually every philosophical approach in the West do the latter?

    This confused notion of Rationalism seems to be referring more to Rationalist ethics, rather than any other aspect of Rationalism. However, what in Rand is specifically Rationalist, even in this regard?

    In her novels selfishness conquers all; those who selfishly enrich themselves by adding value prevail, while those who selfishly enrich themselves by looting and mooching get unstuck.

    ‘Selfishness’ here is explicitly a psychological concept, yet it’s an elementary piece of psychology (see Freud on this, or better, Nietzsche) that ‘selfishness’ is absolutely not antithetical to ‘altruism’ or ‘do-gooderism’. Moreover, from another, more empirical perspective, self-interest arguably coincides with desiring ‘social harmony’, less poverty, etc. There are numerous studies pointing to more ‘equal’ societies being happier and better off.

    Hayek’s idea of ‘dispersed knowledge’ is actually a very clever idea, and far superior to anything one finds in Rand. I don’t think it necessarily has to be interpreted in a free-market manner. However, when you start talking about ‘dispersed knowledge’, you’re starting to get more pomo than any French lefties I can think of. One wonders what reception a theory of ‘dispersed knowledge’ would receive here if it came from some of the regulars at Larvatus.

    Rothbard is an embarrassment here, if he thinks that it’s not Dostoevsky, or Tolstoy, or Joyce, or Conrad who has written the greatest novel, but Rand. This looks very much like ideological fanaticism functioning as a kind of lobotomy. Rothbard’s statement is tantamount to a Soviet critic hailing a turgid piece of Social Realism as a masterpiece along the lines of a Goya or Van Gogh.

    More broadly, it seems to me that there’s a gulf in the epistemological statuses of Rand, on the one hand, and Hayek, Mises and Rothbard. The latter are less sweeping in their aims, but all the more defensible as a result. Rand is more problematic, to put it charitably. There’s a reason why Rand’s works are taught neither in philosophy nor literature departments, and it has nothing to do with commies running academia.

  3. Sinclair Davidson

    THR – a lot of big words there. I understand why Rand isn’t taught in literature departments – her books are not examples of good writing. For all the reasons I set out in the post (and also a couple of years ago in the AFR).

    (As a personal prejudice – the greatest novel wasn’t written by Joyce or Conrad either).

  4. daddy dave

    so if I wanted to read one Rand novel that really gave me what Rand was about, would it be The Fountainhead? Or Atlas Shrugged?
    Because realistically, I’m probably not going to read both unless the first one I read blows me away; and even then it’s not a certainty.

  5. Sinclair Davidson

    Atlas shrugged.

  6. Rand apparently loathed Friedrich von Hayek. He was, in her eyes, a socialist.
    .
    So this tradition whereby libertarians act like cats in a bag over insignificant differences and throw ‘socialist’ at each other in Pythonesque frenzy has been going on a while huh? 🙂
    .
    I haven’t read her. I’m not sure this ‘Rationalism’ deserves to be taken so seriously. She was a fan of Nietzsche I understand and appears to be one of those people who read him in the early 20th century and just didn’t get it. Everyone who read him in the early 20th century just didn’t get it. Bertrand Russell’s there too. She’s in good company.
    .
    Worshipping Reason gets you nowhere.
    .
    I have some gist of her life and particularly of her private circle when famous. Interesting how someone supposedly proposing to endorse freedom over all else would then have the ironic temerity to dictate sex partners and music tastes to people who’re supposedly friends!
    .
    Apparently full details in Murray Rothbard’s The Sociology of Libertarianism are availbale. Haven’t been yet.

  7. ‘Selfishness’ here is explicitly a psychological concept, yet it’s an elementary piece of psychology (see Freud on this, or better, Nietzsche) that ’selfishness’ is absolutely not antithetical to ‘altruism’ or ‘do-gooderism’.
    .
    I’ll be back.

  8. THR

    She was a fan of Nietzsche I understand and appears to be one of those people who read him in the early 20th century and just didn’t get it. Everyone who read him in the early 20th century just didn’t get it. Bertrand Russell’s there too. She’s in good company.

    I can’t agree there, Adrien. I don’t think this is an early 20th Century misunderstanding, but rather, an Ayn Rand misunderstanding. Russell’s objections to Nietzsche are mostly fair and reasonable. It’s more a case of him choosing not to see all of the elements of Nietzsche’s work, which was fairly typical of the first generation or two of readers. People tended to mainly focus on the really ‘obvious’ concepts, like slave morality, the Overman, eternal recurrence, and so forth. So Russell read Nietzsche narrowly, but accurately. Rand simply wasn’t that bright.

  9. rog

    And here is Ebeling saying that what Mises preached was not what Mises practiced

  10. JC

    Rog means the Mises didn’t live the life he preached because of this?

    But Mises made did not make his living as a grand theorist. For almost a quarter of a century, from 1909 to 1934 (except for most the years of the Great War), Mises worked as economic policy analyst and advisor to the Vienna Chamber of Commerce. From the age of 28 to 53 (at which time he moved to Geneva, Switzerland to accept his first full-time academic position as the Graduate Institute of International Studies) he spent his working day as a “policy wonk.” And I mean a “policy wonk” – someone immersed in the factual details and economic policy specifics of, first, the old Austro-Hungarian government and, then, the Austrian Republic between the two World Wars. His statistical knowledge of “the facts” of fiscal policy, regulatory legislation, and Austrian monetary institutions and policy was precise and minute.

    That he worked as a policy wonk for the Chamber of commerce and later took and academic job.

    Great find, rog. Not!

    Look you wanker, just because you married Geoff and had a sex changed doesn’t mean we’re all like you- even Mises.

    There’s nothing surprising in his work life to suggest he lived the opposite of how he preached, you unadulterated nincompoop.

  11. It’s bit of stretch to say Mises didn’t practice what he preached because he didn’t want an immediate abolition of tariffs. It’s a sticky question and we only know now it can be done through experience and criticism of structural adjustment packages.

  12. Abu Chowdah

    I guess he hated those Mises to pises.

  13. So Russell read Nietzsche narrowly, but accurately. Rand simply wasn’t that bright.
    .
    My narrow knowledge of Ms Rand disinclines me to express an opinion. But from my basic knwoledge of her she seems to merely reverse the polarity. Nietszche has things to say about the Slave Morality being an inversion of values of the master morality. She reinverts them: selfishness good, alturism bad. This discreet and absolute dichotomy is part of the problem with the moral architecture Nietzsche is criticizing.

    There is also something of the disciple about Rand. Nietzsche tried to avoid and discourage disciples. He didn’t spin out the master plan he wrote things that were deliberately provocative.

    Russell gets him right in two ways: he describes him as an aristocratic anarchist and says that he’s talking about ethics not politics. Otherwise it’s phooey. He describes him as an advocate of Social Darwinism. That’s pretty typical of the facile readings of him extant at the time. People widely thought him to be advocating the boot in the face as something to aspire to.
    .
    And also alturism and selfishness are at loggerheads. Nietzsche knew it and advocated selfishness. That is advocated that we acknowledge that we mostly act from self-interest.

  14. Michael Sutcliffe

    That is advocated that we acknowledge that we mostly act from self-interest.

    True, but from an objectivist perspective it’s more that ‘good’ is good. Doing something good for yourself isn’t bad, or somehow less good, just because you’re doing it for yourself (as claimed either directly or indirectly by various philosophies and religions over the eons!)

  15. Sinclair Davidson

    rog – wtf? That piece is about the fact that Mises wasn’t an out-of-touch theorist.

  16. JC

    rog – wtf? That piece is about the fact that Mises wasn’t an out-of-touch theorist

    That he wanted a gradual reduction of tariffs to allow people to adjust to the new environment.

  17. C.L.

    “Better to be inside the Vienna Chamber of Commerce pissing out than outside the Vienna Chamber of Commerce pissing in.”

    – General De Gaulle

  18. The Fountainhead is a better book as novels go; Rand had to restrain her impulse to splurge on the word count and write a novel people would read. Atlas Shrugged, published after the first one had become a major bestseller, meant that she could get away without being edited. The book is badly written as a result, but more revealing.

    Working out why hundreds of thousands or millions of people love a given book is very difficult, especially when that book is full of complex ideas. We’re not supposed to like novels about ideas, and — to be fair — this is often a good intuition. They don’t sell. But when they do (and Rand is not alone in this; there are other novels stuffed with challenging stuff that have been very popular), working out why is akin to playing the shell game at a country fair: the marble isn’t under any of the cups.

  19. Pingback: skepticlawyer » Books with ideas

  20. THR

    And also alturism and selfishness are at loggerheads. Nietzsche knew it and advocated selfishness. That is advocated that we acknowledge that we mostly act from self-interest.

    No. Nietzsche advocated nothing of the sort. To the extent that he advocated a kind of self-determining ‘becoming’, it surely would not have had anything to do with the vulgar and mediocre ideals of the market, which he rightly despised.

    Now, there are several arguments as to why an opposition between ‘selfishness’ and ‘altruism’ is false. There are two in particular that come to mind.

    Firstly, ‘altruism’, and cooperative behaviour can be entirely in line with self-interest. To an extent, the basic structure of a family is like this – one’s individual ‘interest’ is, in some degree, with the collective. The same thing happens at a societal level also.

    Secondly, and this is the more Nietzschean/Freudian point, one may renounce some form or self-interest in the name of ‘altruism’, but nonetheless recoup enjoyment/jouissance/power etc by the very act of renunciation itself.

  21. THR

    Rand’s position is really to describe how consciousness interacts with the world. To that end, her views are completely at odds with everything we know about motivation, perception, memory, and so forth. Her ‘rationalism’ in this sense is merely an arrogant dismissal of every kind of empirical evidence.

  22. C.L.

    All one really needs to know about Nietzsche is that he was a perpetually sick (possibly syphilitic) weakling.

  23. THR

    All one really needs to know about Nietzsche is that he was a perpetually sick (possibly syphilitic) weakling.

    And in spite of these defects, he still produced a philosophy next to which Ms Rand looks like a gibbering retard in comparison, who is universally ignored by professional philosophers and the literati alike. What’s your point?

  24. Michael Sutcliffe

    Her ‘rationalism’ in this sense is merely an arrogant dismissal of every kind of empirical evidence……………

    ………who is universally ignored by professional philosophers and the literati alike. What’s your point?

    Her model more accurately reflects the world than anything they’ve ever proposed. Furthermore, however, ‘broad’ or ‘blunt’ her model may be, it is complete – it stands on it’s own. Whatever mistakes she may have made, this broad underpinning of her objectivist model will carry through time, and will continue to cause people to substantially remodel their thinking. Nothing you’ve painstakingly called out over all the time you’ve spent on this blog even casts a shadow of doubt on this. Admit it, you have nothing to fault her!

  25. C.L.

    It isn’t obvious? Pale, spluttering Mr Blanket in a Wheelchair raving on about the Superman.

  26. THR

    Pale, spluttering Mr Blanket in a Wheelchair raving on about the Superman.

    Yes, and pale, spluttering Ms Blanket, whose superman turns out to be a shopkeeper?

    Her model more accurately reflects the world than anything they’ve ever proposed. Furthermore, however, ‘broad’ or ‘blunt’ her model may be, it is complete – it stands on it’s own

    Don’t get me wrong, Sutcliffe. Among laypeople, she’s a ‘bestseller’, as Sinclair and others have observed. The last thing I’d want to do is criticise the bestsellers of laypeople, whether they be Miley Cyrus, Mills & Boon, or Ayn Rand. For the non-layperson, however, it may be worth considering why Rand has not influenced a single important philosopher since her death.

    I mean, it’s obvious that her philosophy is an attempt to smuggle in a ‘rational’ basis for her political and economic views. For most people, right-liberalism and free marketism stand on their own. Plenty of people have those views. But Rand, in a burst of Marx-envy, wanted to give those views some philosophical substance.

    In the course of this, and, contrary to Marx, she contributed nothing original whatsoever to philosophy. Hayek, wrong as he is, has a basically sane and defensible view of things. For him, knowledge is partial and mediated, for instance. Not for Rand. Against everything we know about the human mind, philosophically and psychologically, the Randian mind memorises, perceives, thinks, etc., with ‘objectivism’. Unfortunately for Ms Rand, there were Ancient Greeks with more nuanced views than this. But, by all means, forgo the Tolstoy and Wittgenstein for illogical, unempirical tales of tragically-heroic bankers, shopkeepers and accountants, courtesy of Ms Rand.

  27. pedro

    “It is inconsistent with the perfection and uniformity characteristics that Oakeshott describes. In what she might have considered a bitter irony it is consistent with Hayek’s dispersed knowledge theory. It is entirely possible that a novelist can imagine a dystopia and understands the economic consequences of that dystopia and write a best-selling novel based on that understanding without being able to implement their own utopia.”

    No truly intelligent person can be a utopian.

    “To that end, her views are completely at odds with everything we know about motivation, perception, memory, and so forth.”

    Perhaps in a limited sense, but not in the important sense that the vast majority of people are not minded to be communists. The classic error of the socialist is to think that their class and intellectual enemies believe money and property are the only motivations for action.

    As Mises said (profoundly I believe) people act purposefully. That is quite a different thing from saying that people act rationally. I do lots of things that are not rational (to the extent that term has any meaning), but they satisfy my wants.

  28. pedro

    THR, the great challenge for a marxist is to explain how anything marx said is a rational basis for the reordering of society. But give it your best shot.

  29. THR

    Perhaps in a limited sense, but not in the important sense that the vast majority of people are not minded to be communists. The classic error of the socialist is to think that their class and intellectual enemies believe money and property are the only motivations for action.

    Wrong.

    Rand had very specific ideas about how the mind worked, in terms of perception and so forth, and in terms of how consciousness grasps at reality. All have been proven wrong at least a thousand times now.

    Now, the socialist does not believe that money and property are the only motivations for action. Capitalist process occur quite independently of any ‘motivation’. The socialist does believe, however, that businessmen are not primarily motivated by rainbows, kittens and fairy bread, if that’s what you mean.

  30. THR

    THR, the great challenge for a marxist is to explain how anything marx said is a rational basis for the reordering of society

    Marx critiqued society far more than he provided an instructional manual for its re-ordering. The critique is still valid, almost in toto. As for re-ordering – it shouldn’t take too many more bailouts of bankers to achieve this. The vast majority of the populace is far to the left of mainstream politics on every economic issue.

  31. I thought this description of Rand’s novels by Johann Hari in Slate last year sounded short, probably accurate, and funny:

    “Her heroes are a cocktail of extreme self-love and extreme self-pity: They insist they need no one, yet they spend all their time fuming that the masses don’t bow down before their manifest superiority.”

    Hari, incidentally, describes her attitude as Neitzschean, especially in the way she wrote great praise for a noted serial killer in her diary. His review certainly is of interest for indicating what a nutty character she was:

    http://www.slate.com/id/2233966/

    (I know this doesn’t address the main point of the post, but I just thought people may be interested.)

  32. My understanding was that — at least initially — Hayek and Rand were friendly, but that they grew distant over time (according to John Gardner, there is some acrimonious correspondence extant between the two. It may be in the Bodleian; nothing would surprise me).

    If Tony Honoré is to be believed, reading Rand beside Hayek reveals an important divergence in liberal thinking (Honoré, like Hayek, wants his bloody word back) between those who are more inclined to pay attention to consequences (Hayek) and those who tend to reason from first principles (Rand, Rothbard).

    Importantly, Hayek pays attention to consequences without being consequentialist, a tricky balancing act that he somehow sustains throughout the Constitution of Liberty and Law, Legislation and Liberty.

  33. The socialist does believe, however, that businessmen are not primarily motivated by rainbows, kittens and fairy bread, if that’s what you mean.

    In which case the socialist and Adam Smith are very much on the same page.

  34. C.L.

    Twilight of the Idols: “the human being who has become free – and how much more the spirit who has become free – spits on the contemptible type of well-being dreamed of by shopkeepers, Christians, cows, females, Englishmen, and other democrats. The free man is a warrior.”

    The free man may well be a warrior but poor old Fred was a bed-ridden, sickly, bitter bone head.

  35. pedro

    “while Mises gushed that it was not merely a novel, but ‘a cogent analysis of the evils that plague our society’.”

    Perhaps that is correct, but that is support only for the diagnosis, not the cure.

    THR, I’m not a Randian. But the point I was making is the one you acknowledge, namely that socialists make the mistake of thinking that only they have motivations other than money. Having grown up in a small business family and worked in business I can confidently say that business people are primarily motivated by a large number of factors and money is only one of them and by no means massively dominant. When discussing issues like staff retention at work, nobody disagrees ever that money is ever more than a negative issue.

    The socialist has to create the new man to achieve the socialist utopia. If you can’t see the problem there then you’re not really trying. Only stupid theists believe in the fall.

  36. pedro

    “Marx critiqued society far more than he provided an instructional manual for its re-ordering.”

    Ahem:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Communist_Manifesto

  37. pedro

    “and those who tend to reason from first principles (Rand, Rothbard).”

    I’ve read more Rothbard than Rand (life’s too short for her turgid prose) and he sure is a nut.

  38. THR

    The free man may well be a warrior but poor old Fred was a bed-ridden, sickly, bitter bone head.

    Do you apply the same standard to the physics of Stephen Hawking? What are you, an Englishman?

    Besides, Nietzsche was able-bodied until his final lapse into paralysis. You’ll need a better refutation than the old reductio ad wheelchairium.

    In which case the socialist and Adam Smith are very much on the same page.

    They’ve always been on the same page. If anything, there are loads of passages that undermine in Smith that undermine contemporary free marketism.

  39. Michael Sutcliffe

    I mean, it’s obvious that her philosophy is an attempt to smuggle in a ‘rational’ basis for her political and economic views.

    I acknowledge this is a shit-slinging match, but the ‘smuggling’ is done by your side. That’s why your arguments fall apart after the second iteration of thought.

    Rand had very specific ideas about how the mind worked, in terms of perception and so forth, and in terms of how consciousness grasps at reality.

    This isn’t true. Rand’s model was of the mind that evolution was ‘trying’ to achieve as humans evolved using reason as their means of survival. She wasn’t doing experiments to discover the nuances of human behaviour and trying to explain them in terms of biochemistry or something. So when she had an idea of how the mind worked, it was simply that the mind was able to reason. You take this and extrapolate to suggest she is claiming something more, but this is the usual trap both the collectivists and the intellectual theorists fall into. Her philosophy is ‘broad brushed’, but that doesn’t make it wrong or even weak. I would tend to agree with you that she didn’t discover any new ideas, but she brought together a framework of existing ideas in a consistent and complete way that hadn’t been done before. Credit where credit is due.

  40. THR

    I’m glad you pointed out the manifesto, pedro. Of Marx’s volumes, this was one of the few that pointed to an actual change in society, and even then, it wasn’t hugely specific. You’ve picked 40 pages out of about 400,000.

    Having grown up in a small business family and worked in business I can confidently say that business people are primarily motivated by a large number of factors and money is only one of them and by no means massively dominant.

    You can’t be ‘primarily motivated’ by a large number of factors, else your motivations, by definition, wouldn’t be primary. When businessmen start trading for tiddlywinks we can start seriously considering that money isn’t their primary motivation.

    The socialist has to create the new man to achieve the socialist utopia. If you can’t see the problem there then you’re not really trying. Only stupid theists believe in the fall.

    No. This is the failed argument by ‘human nature’, which turns out to mean whatever right-wingers want it to mean. Let’s go back to the communist manifesto. first, communism, properly conceived, is not a utopia. It is merely about fulfilling man’s biological needs (food, shelter, safety, and by extension, education and health care). Now, have a look at the demands that Marx and Engels listed in the Manifesto. At least two-thirds of those demands have been in operation in every developed country for some decades now, no ‘new man’ required.

  41. To be fair, Hawking doesn’t go around advocating spitting on people. It is rather unfortunate that mad scientists are a staple of popular culture, when they tend to be relatively sane chaps. I mean, Einstein had bad hair and periodically forgot his pants (or is that an urban myth?), and Archimedes ran down the street in the buff when he discovered water displacement, but these are very minor foibles — if they are even foibles at all.

  42. JC

    You can’t be ‘primarily motivated’ by a large number of factors, else your motivations, by definition, wouldn’t be primary. When businessmen start trading for tiddlywinks we can start seriously considering that money isn’t their primary motivation.

    My mother is 85 years old and works a full day at her business. She’s not motivated by money and despite begging her doctors to tell her to give up, which they won’t, she continues like a little trooper. Up at 5 in the morning and to work by 7 to open the place up and to make sure other people arrive on time. Get’s home at 5.30 and does stuff around the house.

    She’s motivated by the happiness that she’s useful will not retire.

    As Michael says, Money is not a motivator to a large extent.

  43. pedro

    It’s the other third that require the new man, namely, the eradication of the profit motive. I’m the first to admit we live in a social democracy along with pretty much all of the developed and largely developed world. Hayek and Friedman both supported a limited form of social democracy so that is hardly the triumph of the left.

    “You can’t be ‘primarily motivated’ by a large number of factors, else your motivations, by definition, wouldn’t be primary. ”

    Ok, pedantry acknowledged, in my experience small and large business people are motivated by a range of factors and money is no so dominant as you would believe. The truth is that, contrary to the socialist position, capitalists are not pretty evil, rather, their critics are pretty stupid.

  44. THR

    To be fair, Hawking doesn’t go around advocating spitting on people.

    Neither did Nietzsche.

    Rand, on the other hand…well, let’s have a look at Steve from Brisbane’s hilarious link:

    The newspapers were filled for months with stories about serial killer called William Hickman, who kidnapped a 12-year-old girl called Marion Parker from her junior high school, raped her, and dismembered her body, which he sent mockingly to the police in pieces. Rand wrote great stretches of praise for him, saying he represented “the amazing picture of a man with no regard whatsoever for all that a society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. A man who really stands alone, in action and in soul. … Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should.” She called him “a brilliant, unusual, exceptional boy,” shimmering with “immense, explicit egotism.” Rand had only one regret: “A strong man can eventually trample society under its feet. That boy [Hickman] was not strong enough.”

    Perhaps Sutcliffe can explain this one.

  45. Michael Sutcliffe

    Never heard of it so enlighten me.

  46. pedro

    “first, communism, properly conceived, is not a utopia. It is merely about fulfilling man’s biological needs (food, shelter, safety, and by extension, education and health care).”

    Yeah, sure:

    “Communism is a social structure in which, theoretically, classes are abolished and property is commonly controlled, as well as a political philosophy and social movement that advocates and aims to create such a society.[1]
    Karl Marx, the father of communist thought, posited that communism would be the final stage in society, which would be achieved through a proletarian revolution and only possible after a socialist stage develops the productive forces, leading to a superabundance of goods and services.[2][3]”

  47. THR

    The truth is that, contrary to the socialist position, capitalists are not pretty evil, rather, their critics are pretty stupid.

    The socialist position is not that capitalists are evil. Capitalists do not intend to shaft anybody. It just so happens that, in the pursuit of capital, a lot of people get shafted. Making this observation is not the same as moral condemnation.

    Sutcliffe, turns out that Rand liked to give rave reviews to child-killers:
    http://www.alternet.org/story/145819/?page=entire

    Communism is a social structure in which, theoretically, classes are abolished and property is commonly controlled

    Yes, communism is about abolishing exploitative class divisions, but also about ‘goods and services’ (what I called ‘biological needs’), as your quote shows.

  48. daddy dave

    I think this idea that people are motivated by self-interest is overdone. Other animals aren’t motivated entirely, or in many cases even primarily, by self-interest. The extreme is ants, of course, which are just miniature biomachines, but plenty of others too. Sheep, geese, sharks… They just behave according to their drives and instincts, and how those interact with the environment. The end result is usually self-preservation, but the animal isn’t going around thinking “how can I further my own interests in the world.”

  49. THR

    The end result is usually self-preservation, but the animal isn’t going around thinking “how can I further my own interests in the world.”

    Then the animal is just mere ‘collectivist’ lice to be crushed, according to Ms Rand.

  50. JC

    THR:

    You really don’t understand what motivates people. It’s NOT money.

  51. Michael Sutcliffe

    But the animal is, we do kill them and eat them, y’know.

  52. THR

    Jc, lots of things motivate people. But when it comes to business, money is the primary motivation. Nobody sets up an enterprise to lose money. Nobody works 40 hours a week for some douchebag because they like the ambiance.

  53. <blockquoteHayek and Friedman both supported a limited form of social democracy so that is hardly the triumph of the left.Indeedy, both supported a negative income tax, what Hayek called ‘a floor through which no-one should be allowed to fall’.

    Their welfare proposals look nothing like the gimcrack mess that exists in the UK, however, where means-testing, high EMTRs and churn have gone mutant and incentives are utterly perverse.

  54. Gah, I’ll try that again.

    Hayek and Friedman both supported a limited form of social democracy so that is hardly the triumph of the left.

    Indeedy, both supported a negative income tax, what Hayek called ‘a floor through which no-one should be allowed to fall’.

    Their welfare proposals look nothing like the gimcrack mess that exists in the UK, however, where means-testing, high EMTRs and churn have gone mutant and incentives are utterly perverse.

  55. JC

    THR:

    I don’t trade to just make money. Seriously. I trade and take risk because there’s no better feeling the world knowing you got a trade thesis right. It’s a better feeling than sex actually. Money is just the way you count you’re right or wrong.

  56. Michael Sutcliffe

    I wouldn’t try to explain what that was all about (obviously the ability to detach yourself from society, but his actions contradict her philosophy so I don’t get it. But it was in her personal diary not part of her philosophy).

    It’s only a small group of people that would say Rand was a nice person. So what? Like her ideas on aesthetics, not everything she said was good.

  57. On that point, JC, you must be due a guest trade post over at our place. Whenever you’ve got one to hand, send it our way.

  58. pedro

    “Yes, communism is about abolishing exploitative class divisions, but also about ‘goods and services’ (what I called ‘biological needs’), as your quote shows.”

    The horn of plenty fantasy is a bit harder to support, no?

    “The socialist position is not that capitalists are evil.” Ummm, if you say so. I’m not sure that is a common socialist view, but there you go, what would I know.

    “Capitalists do not intend to shaft anybody. It just so happens that, in the pursuit of capital, a lot of people get shafted.”

    I suppose that depends on what you mean by shafting. Once you entertain the fantasy that values can be determined outside of market processes then pretty much everyone gets shafted.

    “I think this idea that people are motivated by self-interest is overdone.” Yes, go back to Mises, people act “purposefully” not “rationally”. Mises was smart enough to realise that he did not know what motivates people. In fact, nothing motivates people. A virtually infinite range of things motivate different persons.

  59. Michael Sutcliffe

    Hayek and Friedman both supported a limited form of social democracy so that is hardly the triumph of the left.

    Indeedy, both supported a negative income tax, what Hayek called ‘a floor through which no-one should be allowed to fall’.

    Most people on the right agree with basic welfare. Most agree with public education. Most agree with some form of basic healthcare. It’s just the order of priority of these things, how they should be enshrined in law, the extent to which they are applied and how much they should be allowed to decrease personal choice and alternative solutions. However, the most important part is that the right-wing model ensures these things are sustainable, while the left-wing model generally implodes. In order to improve their model the left generally adjust it so it lasts another generation or so than the previous effort, then declare it a success this time around.

  60. THR

    Jc, I agree that there are other motivations, but that doesn’t prove that money isn’t the main motivation. This is especially true at the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder. You think people stack shelves for the glory of it? Naturally, doctors, academics, athletes, and loads of other people would do what they do for little money, but this does nothing to change the fact that the need for cash alters every aspect of their professional lives.

  61. JC

    Yea Sure, Sl. I have a few good play ones at the moment.

    Two favs are:

    1. My “ideological trade”: short solar and long nuke service firms. Not uranium mining .. nuke services like processors etc that have huge barriers to entry as a result of government interference.

    2. Short the Yen. Short the Yen because with their level of debt, plunging demographics and useless government they’ll implode.

  62. pedro

    “It’s a better feeling than sex actually.”

    SL, would you agree that is a statement no lawyer can make about their occupational pursuits. 🙂

    I note that THR still has not done more than note that a 3/4s of the communist program is social democracy while leaving the all important nutty bits undiscussed.

  63. Michael Sutcliffe

    I suppose that depends on what you mean by shafting.

    He means one group of people might move forward faster than another. See, you and I think foolishly believe that if we’re all moving forward and not forced to do something against our will then no one is being shafted. But what do we know? No Che T-shirt for you, old chum.

  64. pedro

    “You think people stack shelves for the glory of it? Naturally, doctors, academics, athletes, and loads of other people would do what they do for little money, but this does nothing to change the fact that the need for cash alters every aspect of their professional lives.”

    What part of the need of sustenance justifies yoking the smart, diligent and thrifty to the service of the rest?

  65. JC

    No I don’t think Birdie stacks shelves for the love of it, THR. Not a second. He has to live after all as he can’t make any money spewing his useless ideas or abusing people. So at a certain level people have to work to live.

    However I don’t think Steve Jobs is in it for the money either. The guy is potentially very ill and he’s still beavering away trying hold Apple’s position as the top brand in the world.

    Beyond a certain point you don;t work for money.

    Hank Paulson, the Treasury Sec. under Bush didn’t need $150,000 salary he earned in his position. I’m sure at certain times he felt that he could just give the silly away as the abuse wasn’t worth the hassle.

    Mises was right though. People do love to work for the most part.

  66. THR

    See, you and I think foolishly believe that if we’re all moving forward and not forced to do something against our will then no one is being shafted.

    Except that ‘we’re’ clearly not all moving forward, at least, not in terms of wages, or freedoms. Business activists are continually fighting to reduce the rights of working people. Slow down before you become one of CL’s cripples.

    I note that THR still has not done more than note that a 3/4s of the communist program is social democracy while leaving the all important nutty bits undiscussed.

    There are very few ‘nutty’ ideas in the manifesto, other than crankish notions of a workers militia being available at all times. None of the other ideas are crazy.

  67. Alas, Pedro, you may well be right, although a trial win when you pull a bunny out of the hat THAT WORKS (after having been subjected to a standing eight count) is pretty fun. Maybe barristers have more fun 😉 That said, in my experience the sex after the trial win is pretty hard to beat. Can’t speak for traders after a winning trade thesis though…

  68. THR

    Beyond a certain point you don;t work for money.

    Jc, I agree with this point 100%. The point is about getting to this ‘certain point’. Also, for most people i business, the logic of the game compels them to continue striving for profit. It’s very rare that they can decide to throw competitiveness out the window to follow some personal caprice, irrespective of what they’ve accumulated.

  69. pedro

    ARe you disowning the socialist horn of plenty then THR?

    The idea that I should be yoked to the state is nutty to me. But I guess that is the eternal problem. You think it immoral that the market provides varied rewards. I think that the market is the opinion, freely cast, of everyone and thus a little hard to gainsay.

  70. THR

    What part of the need of sustenance justifies yoking the smart, diligent and thrifty to the service of the rest?

    That ‘yoking’ is keeping you on the internet, isn’t it? 🙂

  71. pedro

    “It’s very rare that they can decide to throw competitiveness out the window to follow some personal caprice, irrespective of what they’ve accumulated.”

    So those disable people working in our office, the work-placing giving programs, the insistence on work-life balance, all driven by a group of law firm partners, is just the profit motive is it?

  72. pedro

    “Maybe barristers have more fun.” I hope not.

  73. THR

    The idea that I should be yoked to the state is nutty to me. But I guess that is the eternal problem. You think it immoral that the market provides varied rewards. I think that the market is the opinion, freely cast, of everyone and thus a little hard to gainsay.

    I haven’t promoted the state in any fashion on this thread. But this idea that you push, one of market fetishism, if for folks with room temperature IQs. The whole reason the modern state exists is because markets are shite at doing what right-wingers claim they do. I’d prefer a system were the state didn’t have to provide healthcare or education, but jesus, leave it up to markets and two-thirds of the population would be bred purely for serfdom. Markets move money from one place to the next. That’s all. They don’t solve problems, and there’s nothing ‘free’ about them.

  74. THR

    So those disable people working in our office, the work-placing giving programs, the insistence on work-life balance, all driven by a group of law firm partners, is just the profit motive is it?

    Idiot. I spent about four comments earlier this thread arguing that ‘self-interest’ was consistent with ‘altruism’.

  75. Michael Sutcliffe

    Markets move money from one place to the next. That’s all. They don’t solve problems, and there’s nothing ‘free’ about them.

    And you claim Rand is simplistic and misguided?

  76. THR

    And twisted with inarticulate resentment. Let’s not forget that about her.

  77. pedro

    “The whole reason the modern state exists is because markets are shite at doing what right-wingers claim they do. I’d prefer a system were the state didn’t have to provide healthcare or education, but jesus, leave it up to markets and two-thirds of the population would be bred purely for serfdom. Markets move money from one place to the next. That’s all. They don’t solve problems, and there’s nothing ‘free’ about them.”

    No, the modern social democratic state exists for the same as the feudal state. People with power will take goods and services of others. The freeing of the market coinciding with the start of the industrial revolution was the end of serfdom.

    “Idiot. I spent about four comments earlier this thread arguing that ’self-interest’ was consistent with ‘altruism’.”

    No, you argued that business people are mainly interested in money and don’t much care for other stuff. But I agree that my bosses are motivated by self-interest. They feel good about hiring disabled people. And I reckon Florence Nightingale felt good about looking after sick people and that is why she did it. I like being nice to people and I feel happy about doing it. So I’m not nice despite myself but because it gives me a reward.

  78. THR

    No, the modern social democratic state exists for the same as the feudal state. People with power will take goods and services of others

    Yes, the rich take from the poor, more or less. So you’re a communist then?

    No, you argued that business people are mainly interested in money and don’t much care for other stuff

    The thread is less than eighty comments old. Use the mouse scrolling thing to read what I said, rather than inventing it:
    http://catallaxyfiles.com/2010/03/14/begining-with-ayn-rand/comment-page-2/#comment-22949

  79. pedro

    “Yes, the rich take from the poor, more or less. So you’re a communist then?”

    What part of progressive taxation don’t you understand?

    “The thread is less than eighty comments old. Use the mouse scrolling thing to read what I said, rather than inventing it:”

    Right, that was the only thing you said. Okey dokey.

  80. THR

    What part of progressive taxation don’t you understand?

    Ah, progressive taxation, Poor rich people are robbed blind. Naturally, all of their income is derived solely from their superior ability, and not from anything else, and not in any way dependent upon an underclass. The poor are lazy bastards. James Packer is a Randian genius. Okey dokey.

  81. pedro

    My wife and I are at an effective tax rate of 40% or so. What makes you think we are dependent on an underclass? Given that you don’t know much about us you must be assuming that our wages (well salary, but we are both employees) necessarily require the exploitation of others through the payment to others of undeservedly low wages.

  82. Michael Fisk

    Articles 1 and 4 of The Communist Manifesto, advocating the abolition of private property, are what bring the whole thing undone. No country has ever abolished private property and still managed to enjoy anything close to a developed economy (those countries that have tried the hardest were distinguished by the intensity of the bloodshed that followed). It’s a physically impossible proposition.

    Interestingly, the Communist Manifesto has quite a lot of common ground with the first platform of the National Socialist Party of Germany.

    http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/25points.html

  83. The vast majority of the populace is far to the left of mainstream politics on every economic issue.

    The vast majority of the populace would also like to see pedophiles dance the funky chicken at the end of a rope in front of the courthouse.

    Be careful what you wish for.

  84. Michael Sutcliffe

    The vast majority of the populace is far to the left of mainstream politics on every economic issue.

    That’s only true if you ask broad sweeping questions like “would you rather more services or lower taxes?” I agree you would get an answer to the left of centre. This is based solely on the hope they won’t be doing the paying. If you did their tax return in front of them, and adjusted their bill accordingly with their views on an ideal society, then asked them to get their wallet out and pay up, you would get a very different response. The vast majority would suddenly be right of centre and sudden believers in the ability of the market to deliver and the idea of individuals being the best ones to decide where their money goes.

    The left of centre effect comes from a willingness of governments to promise more than they can deliver (at least within budget), and a willingness to to screw the few if it can result in a next influx of votes. Just look at Tony Abbott’s views on big business lately!

  85. THR

    Articles 1 and 4 of The Communist Manifesto, advocating the abolition of private property, are what bring the whole thing undone

    Clearly this is the most controversial aspect of the Manifesto, in fact, it’s probably the only controversial aspect (except to the tea-baggers). Private property itself has a history, and wasn’t always there for large swathes of the populace. It’s a little extravagant to start attributing magical characteristics to it now.

    Interestingly, the Communist Manifesto has quite a lot of common ground with the first platform of the National Socialist Party of Germany.

    There’s only ‘common ground’ if you subject one or the other of these documents to a wild misreading.

    In any case, the topic here was Rand and the Austrians, not Marx. I have attempted to make some substantial, on-topic points on this subject.

  86. daddy dave

    Private property itself has a history, and wasn’t always there for large swathes of the populace. It’s a little extravagant to start attributing magical characteristics to it now.
    .
    If you’ll excuse the off-topic snark, the same could be said about health care.

  87. dover_beach

    I’m a little surprised that you’d assign Rand to the philosophical tradition of Rationalism. This latter conjures up philosophers such as Spinoza and Leibnitz. I don’t see how Rand could possibly be put in this tradition, especially on the strength of her admiring ‘logic and reason’. Doesn’t virtually every philosophical approach in the West do the latter?

    This confused notion of Rationalism seems to be referring more to Rationalist ethics, rather than any other aspect of Rationalism. However, what in Rand is specifically Rationalist, even in this regard?

    There is more than one type of Rationalism, so we have Platonic Rationalism and Scholastic Rationalism, and modern (Cartesian) Rationalism. The differences between them are significant even though they are nevertheless all forms of Rationalism. As Oakeshott says: although Plato was a Rationalist, dialectic was never a technique; and so far as Scholastic rationalism was concerned, although its method was in some sense a technique, it always had a limited aim. Both these things are not true of modern Rationalism, which accepted that its method of investigation was both a technique and was universally applicable. I think Rand accepted these premises herself and they are reflected in her, and her followers, ethics and politics. What you’re chocking on, THR, is her Rationalism simply because it lacks the sophistication we normally see in its more philosophical guises.

  88. dover_beach

    Private property itself has a history, and wasn’t always there for large swathes of the populace. It’s a little extravagant to start attributing magical characteristics to it now.

    If private property lacks “magical characteristics” why why should we believe its abolition would have ‘magical’ consequences?

  89. Michael Fisk

    Clearly this is the most controversial aspect of the Manifesto, in fact, it’s probably the only controversial aspect (except to the tea-baggers). Private property itself has a history, and wasn’t always there for large swathes of the populace. It’s a little extravagant to start attributing magical characteristics to it now.

    It’s “magical consequences” include the Industrial Revolution and the hauling of a significant percentage of humanity out of utter penury. That’s pretty magical if you ask me. Those who would happily do away with private property should live with the necessary consequences: mass murder, starvation and genocide.

  90. THR

    Those who would happily do away with private property should live with the necessary consequences: mass murder, starvation and genocide.

    Every time some company goes bust and the government bails it out or nationalises it, its doing away with private property. It needn’t be that scary.

    What you’re chocking on, THR, is her Rationalism simply because it lacks the sophistication we normally see in its more philosophical guises.

    Dover, you know Oakeshott better than me. Perhaps you can tell me whether he is being a little broad in his definitions here. It seems that there’s little to stop any schmuck, Rand-style, coming up with some wild a priori claims about the mind or ethics, and then dignifying it with the term ‘Rationalism’.

  91. JC

    Every time some company goes bust and the government bails it out or nationalises it, its doing away with private property. It needn’t be that scary.

    I think that applies more in the US than here recently.

    We had two actually quite large shadow banks that failed and they weren’t bailed out.
    Bailouts were bad policy.

  92. No. Nietzsche advocated nothing of the sort.
    .
    Well allowing for the oversimplistic nature of my statement this is dead wrong. And I could cite, I don’t know, hundreds of quotes. I won’t. If we say that Nietzsche’s notions of selfishness are not vulgar advocacies of rampant greed etc then we can agree and leave it there.
    .
    To the extent that he advocated a kind of self-determining ‘becoming’,
    .
    Mmm. The 19th century is full of people fighting for the rights of The People. Remarkable people, outstanding individuals, who dedicate their time to fighting for Equality in furtherance of some notion of progress: The Grand March.
    .
    Nietzsche saw this as folly. Higher aspirations for humanity, says he, are not the business of the Mass on whom you can rely only for beer breath and fart jokes. Most people are vulgarians, says he. Don’t bother. That rope a twixt Ape and Superman is something only the few with the guts, the brains and the sensitivity have the capacity to traverse. Others will follow.
    .
    it surely would not have had anything to do with the vulgar and mediocre ideals of the market, which he rightly despised.
    .
    He did acknowledge the constant innovation. Also he’s quite perceptive in envisaging the erosuion of socialism after a large middle class emerges. Socialism, says he, is fununpopular because it want to abolish private property. And most of us don’t want that.
    .
    The Market does not have ideals. The Market is an ideal I’d rather do without. There are markets, that’s all.
    .
    Now, there are several arguments as to why an opposition between ’selfishness’ and ‘altruism’ is false. There are two in particular that come to mind.
    .
    Yes. Enlightened self-interest says you restrain yourself in furtherance of higher and greater good. We know this. But if you don’t think alturism and selfishness are conflcited I suggest negotiating sharing between two-year olds going ballistic over the last piece of cake.

  93. daddy dave

    Every time some company goes bust and the government bails it out or nationalises it, its doing away with private property.
    .
    That example is less than convincing here, THR, as an example of “it’s okay to not have private property”. Bailouts are not very popular around these parts.

  94. THR – In my opinion the Left doesn’t use Nietszche very well. He was roundly rejected ’til after WWII, then progressively used to destroy the veracity of Enlightenment culture; a process that went too far (imho).
    .
    It’s one thing to say, as Nietzsche does, that no true objectivity can ever be attained and that the ideology of science is more religious than scientific. It’s another thing to declare that the empirical rigour of science, its reliability is a mere function of power. This is linked to a simpatico doctrine that holds Western civilization especially prone to nefarious injustice; a widepsread nihilisitc cynicism about the value of liberty.
    .
    Again and again government effort to make people socio-economically equal has not resulted in this goal being accomplished. Read Nietzsche again. His point is that the herd only follows. The herd cannot do anything but follow.
    .
    Now I like the idea of socio-economic equality. At least equality of power. For that reason I’m a fan of Ricardo Semler etc. But even in a private set-up were you don’t have to run every decision thru the committee meeting gauntlet it’s hard to do. I’ve tried it. Industrial democracy works very well once you get it going. But getting it going is difficult because a. Most people want to be told what to do. They do not want to take responsibility. and b. The #1 motivation for taking such responsibility on the part of those that do is material affluence.
    .
    Most people are not interested in higher aspirations:
    .

    You can free the world
    You can free my mind
    Just as long as
    My baby’s safe from harm tonight.

    .
    This is ancient. It’s written into the fabric of the species. Nietszche was the first and last philosopher who actually seemed understood Darwin’s implications. The fabric of species can change. Do change. But it takes a very long time and such alteration is always driven by a much smaller group of individuals.
    .
    If the Left faced this bleak fact and swallowed it whole they might become relevant again.

  95. THR

    Bailouts are not very popular around these parts

    I’m not taking a position for or against bailouts here, I’m merely pointing out that they aren’t genocide.

  96. THR

    If we say that Nietzsche’s notions of selfishness are not vulgar advocacies of rampant greed etc then we can agree and leave it there.

    Perhaps. N was clearly trying to challenge conventional notions of good and evil, but I don’t think that this ever extended to praising what Rand calls ‘selfishness’. N’s hero is a mix of Goethe and Cesare Borgia. One suspects that Ms Rand hankers for a Gordon Gekko.

    You’ve also completely ignored my point, and it’s one that N made repeatedly, namely, that behind ‘saintly’, ‘virtuous’ acts, renunciations and what have you, is a particular kind of will-to-power/enjoyment/jouissance/’selfishness’. Once one accepts this point, silly oppositions between altruism and selfishness become obsolete.

    Socialism, says he, is fununpopular because it want to abolish private property. And most of us don’t want that.

    N’s objections to socialism (and anarchism, for that matter) are that it’s too ‘Christian’. He thinks socialism is an offshoot of Christianity. He thinks, moreover, that the tendency in modern philosophy to equalise and universalise (which he correctly traces back to Christianity) is likely to promote mediocrity. For that reason, he attacks Kant’s Categorical Imperative and Mill’s utilitarianism far more than he attacks socialism. It’s also worth remembering that N never encountered socialism in its Marxian form.

    N is absolutely clear in his contempt for the market, and for bourgeois-capitalist values more generally. He shares Napoleon’s belief that the English are a nation of shopkeepers, and he intends this to be an insult for shopkeepers as well as the English. N critiqued (briefly) the tendency toward mediocrity in market values in a chapter in Zarathustra entitled ‘On the flies of the marketplace’. Industrialists were described as ‘little men’ and compared to ‘poisonous flies’.

    THR – In my opinion the Left doesn’t use Nietszche very well.

    This is true, but only up to a point. Deleuze, for instance, wrote a fine book salvaging N somewhat from a leftist perspective.

    Again and again government effort to make people socio-economically equal has not resulted in this goal being accomplished. Read Nietzsche again. His point is that the herd only follows. The herd cannot do anything but follow.

    N’s points against equality had nothing to do with economics. His objection was not to a welfare state, but to men being made equal morally, intellectually, and creatively. This is why he saw Christians and Kant as the great villains. And, arguably, he saw that market liberalism was another tendency in this mediocritising, equalising push. This is why N stands opposed to Rand, who thinks that every money-grubbing putz is a tragic hero.

  97. dover_beach

    Dover, you know Oakeshott better than me. Perhaps you can tell me whether he is being a little broad in his definitions here. It seems that there’s little to stop any schmuck, Rand-style, coming up with some wild a priori claims about the mind or ethics, and then dignifying it with the term ‘Rationalism’.\

    THR, I have no time for Rand. Oakeshott’s point viz. modern Rationalism was that it lacked anything that might mitigate its presumptuousness. Plato’s rationalism was mitigated by the character of dialectic. The Rationalism of the Schoolmen was mitigated by their more limited aims and their recognition that there where different legitimate modes of inquiry. Modern Rationalism has few of these mitigating features and if they’re present they are the residue of its previous incarnations. Rand thinks that ethical judgement can be reduced to a syllogism. She lacks the sophistication of more well-known rationalist forms, like utilitarianism, but they have the same character nevertheless.

    I’d also add that this doesn’t have much to do with a priori claims, wild or not. Modern Rationalism involved the pursuit of certainty by an purging of one’s mind, and then the establishment of what purported to be the most basic a priori claims, but it was the purge that was distinctive; neither Platonic or Scholastic rationalism required such a mental purge of existing knowledge while modern Rationalism believed that everything we had known up and until the establishment of this universal method was nescienct.

  98. Perhaps. N was clearly trying to challenge conventional notions of good and evil, but I don’t think that this ever extended to praising what Rand calls ’selfishness’
    .
    So we agree they significantly differ.
    .
    N’s hero is a mix of Goethe and Cesare Borgia. One suspects that Ms Rand hankers for a Gordon Gekko.
    .
    🙂
    .
    I thought he always wanted to be Beethoven. Didn’t Rand idealize Frank Lloyd Wright in The Fountainhead. Wasn’t he somewhat more than a money grubbing dweed? That’s the only novel of hers I ever attempted. My parents had it. I got as far as one chapter and went: 50s small-print shite prose paperback – Next!
    .
    You’ve also completely ignored my point,
    .
    Well not exactly ignored, I have a different perspective. I think he saw them as antithetical but demonstrated their relationship as interactive: everything originates in its opposite. Alturism is selfishness. Revolutionaries say: we’ll free you but what they’re really doing whether aware or not, is acquiring power.
    .
    Liberalism is responsible for the institutions that keep this at bay. Democracy, a quarantine system on the lust for tyranny.
    .
    I haven’t read Gilles Delueze. I’m afraid I’d gotten bored of the PoMo Fandango by the time people started discussing Capitalism and Schizophrenia at cocktail parties. Worthwhile?

  99. Rococo Liberal

    What a great thread!

    Rand was neither a novelist nor a philosopher, but a phenomenon. That makes her important.

    There’s nothing Neitzche couldn’t teach ya ’bout the raising of the wrist.

    Adrien, I agree that, just as there are fundamentalist atheists (a la Mr Dawkins), there are also those whose altruiism is at base selfishness, be it for power, fame or even monetary reward (Mr Gore). It seems a common trap that applies to lefties who are usually ‘altruistic’ for their own jollification as much as any true wish to assist the downtrodden.

  100. Tim R

    Bit of an amateur posting here IMO.
    To call Ayn Rand a Rationalist is strange considering her advocation of inductive method and her renkown contempt for Kant.
    Objectivist epistemology treats concepts as hierachical. In terms of philosophical topics, this means politics is a “higher” branch of philosophy built on more fundamental considerations of metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. This is why Objectivists are critical of Libertarian politics. They ultimately think that Libertarian efforts will fail unless more fundamental changes in culture occur, especially in ethics (which rests on metaphysics and epistemology).

    Davidson states “Many of these rules take the form of religion and religious practice; while others are cultural. This implies that there are norms that govern our behaviour that we don’t always understand or that we cannot easily articulate. It is this type of rule that becomes problematic for Rationalists who idealise logic and reason.”

    Yes philosophy like all pursuits of knowledge is difficult and problematic. What’s going here is that humans require a philosophy one way or another because of the way we are (ie: our mental faculties). Religion is simply a primitive form of philosophy, but religion is man made and is not necessarily a given.
    In epistemology, Objectivism regards a rejection of reason as ultimately resulting in emotionalsim. Objectivism doesn’t reject the nature of the subconcious mind however. It simply treats emotions as the effect, not the cause.
    In addition Objectivists regard omniscience as an impossible standard to epistemology brought about by people who believe in the supernatural. ie: Rational men will have disagreements and mistakes are also possible to the most rational people.

    Regarding Davidson’s multiple unbacked assertions in this post that Rand’s writing was of a low quality. this is simply his personal (and quite strong it seems) opinion – I disagree. The Fountainhead is quite possibly my favourite fiction book. Ayn Rand modeled her writing on the Romanticist school – her favourite author was Victor Hugo. She had very distinctive and interesting thoughts on art, particularly the art form the novel. The Romantic Manifesto is fascinating to someone like me who has a big interest in art. Ayn Rand worked for 11 years on Atlas Shrugged. Her novel is attempting to integrate, theme, characters, style and plot at the highest level. Her writing is quite unique for 20th century literature and I think that’s why it puts people off. But read something like “The Scarlet Letter” by Hawthorne and you should get the idea. To simply assert the novel is of poor quality is meaningless. Also, if you do not share the “sense of life” (in Objectivist terms) of an artist, you will not enjoy the art – although you should still be able to appreciate the technical quality.

    It’s worth noting that Rand admired Mises, but hated Rothbard.

    And finally of course there’s more to knowledge and life than just Rand. No Objectivist would say otherwise despite the Davidson’s insinuations. Even within philosophical topics, eg/ Objectivism cannot explain the aesthetics of music. eg/ Objectivism doesn’t have a fully detailed theory of mind.
    Objectivism has very little to say about economics for example. This is a specialist science dependant on politics. Also it’s worth noting that psychology and philosophy are different.

  101. dover_beach

    To call Ayn Rand a Rationalist is strange considering her advocation of inductive method and her renkown contempt for Kant.

    It isn’t strange at all. Kant’s philosophy is itself a response to Cartesian rationalism (the name of his principle work, Critique of Pure Reason, is a bit of a hint). And it is in on key respect the inductive method writ large as the only means to truth that is indicative of modern Rationalism.

  102. daddy dave

    They ultimately think that Libertarian efforts will fail unless more fundamental changes in culture occur, especially in ethics (which rests on metaphysics and epistemology).
    .
    That’s an empirical question, and is unanswerable through philosophy alone.

  103. THR

    I haven’t read Gilles Delueze. I’m afraid I’d gotten bored of the PoMo Fandango by the time people started discussing Capitalism and Schizophrenia at cocktail parties. Worthwhile?

    The book is a little heavy-going, but it’s not really pomo. It’s a good demonstration that many of the standard readings of Nietzsche aren’t without alternatives.

    Kant’s philosophy is itself a response to Cartesian rationalism (the name of his principle work, Critique of Pure Reason, is a bit of a hint).

    The works of both Kant and Descartes had elements of rationalism without being reducible to it. Kant was responding more directly to the empiricism of Hume, and I wonder if Rand is also more of an empiricist than a rationalist, since she traces everything back to ‘perception’.

    It should also be said when discussing Rand’s attacks on Kant or whoever that she wasn’t exactly accurate. Russell said something to the effect that it’s better to have an astute enemy than a loyal idiot if you wants your own views accurately represented. Rand seems to have made herself an idiotic enemy of every intelligent philosopher out there.

    Take the Romantic Manifesto, mentioned above. On Schopenhauer, she says that he is an ‘avowed mystic’ who was ‘advocating the supremacy of emotions, instinct or will over reason’. No further explanation is given. This is sheer dishonesty, imbecility, or both, since Schopenhauer demonised the ‘will’, if anything. In the same text, Dostoevsky is reduced to a mere ‘moralist’ depicting ‘evil’, who ‘was totally incapable of creating a positive or virtuous character’. Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is denounced as an ‘evil book’. This is taking stupid to unprecedented depths. I can’t believe that anybody out of their teens would actually endorse this shit.

  104. jtfsoon

    On Hayek she said ‘that one is pure poison’

  105. Tim R

    Dover_beach. Sounds like Empiricism to me.
    Descarte rejects the validity of perception – with his brain in a vat-type approach (the evil demon). Kant goes further and rejects conceptual processes. I am no expert but I don’t think Kant ever adequately explained how he could be sure of the noumenal/phenomenal distinction considering his own conceptual processes were presumably affected. It would be very interesting to hear a Kantian expert explain this actually.

    A champion of induction would be someone like Aristotle with his law of identity or Francis Bacon and his famous “nature to be commanded must be obeyed”.

    Daddy Dave, I can’t understand why you would hold that view. Many philosophers going right back to Aristotle would argue that at least some of their philosophical ideas rest on empirical observation.

    Objectivists define Capitalism as a political system upholding individual rights. (this is different to the usual definition that focuses only on property rights, NB/ a right is defined as a right to action, not to material possessions). Also, Objectivists claim that capitalism means, in terms of the day to day realities of capitalism, acting on one’s self interest for profit. To achieve capitalism, one would therefore have to first live in a society where people value individualism and self interest highly enough. Objectivists note that the dominant ethical theories are not individualistic or egoistic in our culture. Therefore achieving capitalism politically will be fleeting because it will be under constant attack from the masses who do not understand the value in this system. The best effort was the founding of the USA’s constitutional republic. But they descended into a mixed economy. They also don’t take their Bill of rights overly seriously anymore. Another example is the 20th century itself. Socialism failed badly, so people turned toward free markets in the 80s. However this was incomplete and fleeting. Around the world, western countries are back on the path of creeping socialism and/or facism. Rudd is claiming that we were “extreme” capitalists!
    At root, people believe in moral/practical dichotomies leading them to believe a compromise between socialism and capitalism is essential in politics. ie: capitalism gets results, but socialism is moral. Libertarians have an incredibly difficult job to convince people to drop the socialistic elements of our society and in many cases, libertarians are highly compromising themselves. Even the champions of classical liberalism like Mill moved away from advocating laissez faire later in life – probably in an attempt to be more consistent with his own philosophical basis.

    Christians also have a long history of collectivist type politics eg/ Thomas Moore’s Utopia, Augustine’s philosophical writings inspired by the philosopher -king wannabe Plato, or the Puritans experimenting with socialist-type societies upon moving to the New World. Objectivists wouldn’t regard that as conincidence.

  106. THR

    Descarte rejects the validity of perception – with his brain in a vat-type approach (the evil demon). Kant goes further and rejects conceptual processes. I am no expert but I don’t think Kant ever adequately explained how he could be sure of the noumenal/phenomenal distinction considering his own conceptual processes were presumably affected. It would be very interesting to hear a Kantian expert explain this actually.

    Descartes merely suspends the validity of perception. He brings it back a few pages later once he’s establish the cogito.

    I’m no Kantian expert, but I can’t imagine any reading of Kant that has him rejecting ‘conceptual processes’. As demonstrated above, Rand clearly did not understand anything she read, so her take on Kant should not be trusted.

    In my copy of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant defines phenomena as ‘appearances of sensible existences’, and noumena as those ‘which are not objects of our senses, but are thought by the understanding alone’, namely, ‘intelligible existences’.

    Now, consciousness for Kant is mere appearance, but the ‘categories’ are not, and these are the means by which Kant escapes nihilism.

    Kan’t claim that consciousness is merely appearance seems to be the core problem that Rand has with him. She interprets this as a rejection of reason and a love of the irrational. By the same token, Freud argues that man is not the master of his own domain vis-a-vis consciousness. (She seems completely ignorant to the fact that it was Nietzsche who supplied Freud with the notion of the ‘id’.) Rand then metes out to Freud the same accusations of irrationality.

    Naturally, there’s vast empirical evidence demonstrating that man is not, as it turns out, the mast of his own domain. One can only presume that for Rand, all of neuroscience and cognitive psychology is also mere love of irrationality.

    In other words, Rand’s ‘philosophy’ amounts to a wilful blindness concerning all relevant empirical and philosophical concepts. Rand wants man to fit her version of ‘heroism’, and to that end rejects all counter-arguments as ‘irrational’. Basically, this isn’t so much a ‘philosophy’ as wounded narcissism converted into turgid prose.

  107. daddy dave

    Daddy Dave, I can’t understand why you would hold that view. Many philosophers going right back to Aristotle would argue that at least some of their philosophical ideas rest on empirical observation.
    .
    Yeah but insufficiently so. Many philosophers are not as grounded as Aristotle.

  108. Tim R

    Yes my wording is not good there. As I understand Kant thought the process of conception was by its nature distortionary.
    I could be wrong but his noumenal/phenomenal distinction seems very similar to Plato’s world of the forms. Would you say this was a misunderstanding? Kant is of course notoriously difficult reading. When Kant defines phenomenal as “appearances” what would you say this implies?
    Are you saying that according to Kant some aspects of reality can be known via perception but some can’t such as moral considerations?
    In Objectivism the difference would then be that all knowledge ultimately reduces to perception – even though obviously we build on the knowledge of past generations and we do not perform this reduction on a day to day basis.

    From memory I think Rand approved of Nietzsche’s individualism, but she did not approve of the Romanticist philosophers generally. Predecessors such as Hegel have horrific political ideas. Nietzsche’s will to power ideas are ultimately contradictory to Rand’s ideas. Peikoff’s book, the Omminous parallels details some very disturbing quotes from Romanticist philosophers including Schopenhauer – probably from his views on eugenics – I can’t remember. Fichte comes to mind.

    I don’t currently see any value in Freud. His hypotheses seem unscientific from what little I have read. ie: if you’re not behaving in an anal way, then you must be repressing it. How convenient.
    Feel free to educate me further.

    THR, your assertion that Rand clearly “didn’t understand anything she read” is just a little bit over the top don’t you think?

    Also, as far as I’m aware Rand thought Dostoevsky was a brilliant author – but highly malevolent eg/ Crime and Punishment. I thought she highly admired his skill in integrating theme/character/plte. Dostoevsky married a young women he did not love out of pity. She eventually comitted suicide.

  109. The book is a little heavy-going, but it’s not really pomo.
    .
    Well according to mr Bahnisch neither is Foucault or Derrida. 🙂
    .
    It’s a good demonstration that many of the standard readings of Nietzsche aren’t without alternatives.
    .
    I think there are as many readings as people who’ve read him. He was always a bit crackers. Important to remember that.
    .
    Dostoevsky is reduced to a mere ‘moralist’ depicting ‘evil’, who ‘was totally incapable of creating a positive or virtuous character’. Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is denounced as an ‘evil book’. This is taking stupid to unprecedented depths.
    .
    Well if that opinion’s sound, I agree. But people who judge literature as mere moral propaganda are stupid. Books are either well-written or badly, that’s it.

  110. THR

    As I understand Kant thought the process of conception was by its nature distortionary.
    I could be wrong but his noumenal/phenomenal distinction seems very similar to Plato’s world of the forms. Would you say this was a misunderstanding? Kant is of course notoriously difficult reading. When Kant defines phenomenal as “appearances” what would you say this implies?

    People have certainly made the comparison between Kant and Plato, but I’m a bit undecided, myself.
    The problem with conception is that it can never grasp the thing in itself. Kant believes in an ‘external’ reality, but he doesn’t believe that one can get at it directly, since everything we can process is registered through our perceptual (i.e. space and time) and cognitive (i.e. Kant’s categories) apparatus. This has the effect of creating two worlds – a world that we can grasp (that of appearances) and a world beyond us (the world ‘in itself’).

    I think Freud is interesting in connection with Kant, since Kant makes the proto-Freudian move of claiming that all we know of consciousness (apart from Kant’s categories) is appearance. This leaves something radically unknowable at the other side of consciousness.

    Are you saying that according to Kant some aspects of reality can be known via perception but some can’t such as moral considerations?

    I think that Kant calls himself an ’empirical realist’, and believes that perception as applied to science, etc, can be perfectly valid. Kant seeks to delimit metaphysics, and believes there are problems it cannot solve, but does not say the same of science and mathematics. His moral philosophy is a different story. I don’t think that Kant’s moral philosophy derives directly from his metaphysics. He basically argues that one should ‘act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law’.

    Freud was deemed unscientific by Popper on the grounds that psychoanalysis was allegedly unfalsifiable. Popper was wrong on that. Certainly, Freud’s methods wouldn’t pass for ‘scientific’ among mainstream Anglophone psychologists, but then, the latter have their problems with science also.

    THR, your assertion that Rand clearly “didn’t understand anything she read” is just a little bit over the top don’t you think?

    I think that, at a profound level, if one reads Dostoevsky or Tolstoy merely to see if they affirm your views on capitalism, and denounce them as ‘evil’ if they don’t, then yes, there is something fundamental that you don’t understand. This applies to Rand without any mitigating factors. In addition, she’s also brazenly intellectually dishonest or stupid, misrepresenting other philosophers repeatedly. This is why there are many great critiques of Kant, but Rand’s monomaniacal efforts are not among them.

  111. Popper was wrong on that
    .
    Was he? How can you falsify speculations on the unconscious?

  112. Tim R

    Interesting reply THR.
    We obviously strongly disagree on the value of Rand, but I appreciate the Kant interpretation.

    Regarding your last paragraph, I doubt Rand did that regarding Dostoevsky. She admired his technique and ability as a writer. Ayn Rand states: “Among novelists, the greatest are Victor Hugo and Dostoevsky….” – The Romantic Manifesto.
    Continuing:
    “The distinguishing characteristic of this top rank (apart from their purely literary genius) is their full commitment to the premise of volition in both of its fundamental areas: in regard to consciousness and to existence, in regard to man’s character and to his actions in the physical world. Maintaining a perfect integration of these two aspects, unmatched in the brilliant ingenuity of their plot structures, these writers are enormously concerned with man’s soul (i.e., his consciousness).”

    Ayn Rand had particular views on the purpose of art. She defined art as being a selective recreation of metaphysical value judgements from memory but she thought the purpose was to inspire and provide spiritual fuel. Because like Aristotle she views the differentia of man to be his ability to reason. This is man’s nature and should lead to his flourishing. So this led to her advocating art that glorifies reason and volition, she wanted to paint a picture of the ideal man.
    Dostoevsky was however quite malevolent in his story lines, so considering his skill and his acceptance of highly volitional characters, Ayn Rand would have particularly disliked him. She disliked Edgar Alan Poe too. Basically, she believed in a “benevolent universe” as she puts it.

    This example from Ayn Rand explains it well IMO:
    “If one saw, in real life, a beautiful woman wearing an exquisite evening gown, with a cold sore on her lips, the blemish would mean nothing but a minor affliction, and one would ignore it.
    But a painting of such a woman would be a corrupt, obscenely vicious attack on man, on beauty, on all values—and one would experience a feeling of immense disgust and indignation at the artist. (There are also those who would feel something like approval and who would belong to the same moral category as the artist.)

    Why did the artist add the cold sore? Rand would see this as mocking beauty per se. A malevolent view of the world.

    Your last sentence is simply ad hominem. Rand is not a mainstream philosopher. She is studied in a handful of universities, but not many. This may change though, many modern philosophers are not studied at length. I’m sometimes quite pleasantly surprised to discover some modern philosophers I’ve never heard of with whom I share a great deal of common ground with.

  113. Sinclair Davidson

    Atlas Shrugged is taught is the economics and literature course at George Mason University in the US and in the early 90s was taught in the Industrial Relations subject at Wits University.

  114. Rand is studied as a contrast to Hayek (who is treated as a major figure) in the Oxford jurisprudence course (part of the BCL). It was when taking this subject that I first encountered the fact of the very large number of Indian women who had read Rand.

  115. THR

    How can you falsify speculations on the unconscious?

    There are many ways that psychoanalysts have gone about building theories and testing them. Some use the mainstream methods of other psychologists. Some accrue evidence for or against particular hypotheses. Certainly, a number of ideas in psychoanalysis have been falsified (like the seduction theory) from within psychoanalysis.

  116. THR

    “The distinguishing characteristic of this top rank (apart from their purely literary genius) is their full commitment to the premise of volition in both of its fundamental areas: in regard to consciousness and to existence, in regard to man’s character and to his actions in the physical world. Maintaining a perfect integration of these two aspects, unmatched in the brilliant ingenuity of their plot structures, these writers are enormously concerned with man’s soul (i.e., his consciousness).”

    I’ve not read Hugo, so I can’t comment on him, but this is a shockingly bad interpretation of Dostoevsky, who was, metaphorically speaking, the cold sore portraitist par excellence. And ‘volition’ never comes into it. Dostoevsky’s great characters never know entirely why they act and think as they do. So many of the great characters suffer from a ‘heightened consciousness’, yet this latter never provides the escape from their hellish and labyrinthine interior worlds.

Comments are closed.