Tag Archives: Objectivism

Session #10: June 24th, 2009

Atlas Shrugged
Image by Rodrigo Paoletti via Flickr

In today’s session, we finished reading two extracts from Ayn Rand‘s 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged.

We continued discussion some of the issues Ayn Rand raises in that book: capitalism, free trade, individualism, the axiom of non-aggression, etc.

We read a few extracts from Rand’s 1974 address to the graduating students at West Point, “Philosophy: Who Needs It?” We also read a quote from John Maynard Keynes about the importance of philosophers in general and of economists in particular to influence the thinking of the ordinary citizen.

The next session (July 1st, 2009) will be about irony.

A criticism that is often made of Rand’s political philosophy, is that she championed the businessmen and industrialists, yet they are the ones (it is said) who created the present financial crisis. Some people assume this means Rand’s entire philosophy is therefore completely ridiculous and without merit.

Ayn Rand rarely gave credit to other philosophers or thinkers except Aristotle. However, she did inherit many ideas about libertarianism and free-market economics from other thinkers. Here is one, Gabriel Kolko, who writes about a flaw in Ayn Rand’s thinking:

“the lords of Big Business, far from being martyrs to the cause of free market capitalism and “America’s Most Persecuted Minority,” as Ayn Rand had put it, were actually the most powerful and implacable enemies of laissez-faire. The corporate giants  had not only favored the Progressive era regulations [e.g. the New Deal], but had also originated them in an effort to cartelize the markets. Instead of a “persecuted minority,” the coporate giants were, in large part, a state-privileged elite. Far from championing free markets in principle or in practice, corporate barons had ruthlessly used the blunt instrument of government to erect barriers to market entry and bludgeon their competitors into submission.”

(from  “An Enemy of the State” by Justin Raimondo, Prometheus Books, Amherst NY, 2000 (page  138-9), quoting Gabriel Kolko, “The Triumph of Conservatism” (Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press, 1963).

So comedian  Stephen Colbert is hardly the first to point out this flaw in Rand’s world view.

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Why are Ayn Rand’s novels selling so well?

Quote from novelist Ayn Rand.
Image via Wikipedia

A few weeks ago, I blogged about how well Ayn Rand’s books are selling, and some possible reasons.

I found several articles on the Internet on this topic. Here is one which quoted a Wall Street Journal article, which gave 3 reasons for the growing popularity of Atlas Shrugged,

  1. Atlas Shrugged depicted a future in which America descends into economic chaos due to ever-increasing government regulations. … The result is a downward spiral that nearly destroys America. Many Americans are finding Rand’s predictions uncomfortably close to real-life events.
  2. Another reason for Rand’s appeal is her emphasis on the moral dimension. One of her themes was that no country can survive when its government constantly punishes good men for their virtues and rewards bad men for their vices. Americans correctly recognize that it is unjust for the government to take money from those who have lived frugally to bail out those who have lived beyond their means. Honest men should not be forced to pay for the irresponsibility of others.
  3. Finally, Atlas Shrugged resonates with many Americans because they recognize that our current crisis is not just about bailouts and budget deficits. It’s also about a more fundamental issue — the proper scope of government.

Today, I found another article about Atlas Shrugged and how it is relevant to what is happening in the US today: Rand’s Atlas is Shrugging with a Growing Load.

“Atlas Shrugged” is becoming a political “Harry Potter” because Rand shone a spotlight on a problem that still exists: Not pre-1989 Soviet communism, but 2009-style state capitalism. Rand depicted government and companies colluding in the name of economic rescue at the expense of the entrepreneur. That entrepreneur is like the titan Atlas who carries the rest of the world on his shoulders — until he doesn’t.

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Session #9, June 3rd, 2009: The novel of ideas

Atlas Shrugged
Image by Rodrigo Paoletti via Flickr

Today, we read another excerpt from Ayn Rand‘s novel Atlas Shrugged. We read the scene where Hank Rearden‘s mother comes to his office to persuade him to give his younger brother, Philip, a job.

The participant who borrowed my Japanese translation of Atlas Shrugged last week, brought it back today: she had finished reading it. All 1,200 pages! She gave us some useful background information about the story. Another participant promptly borrowed the book.

We had a wide-ranging discussion which included the following:

  1. Why is Atlas Shrugged so popular today in the US?
  2. What is capitalism (and free-market economics)?
  3. What is socialism?
  4. What was the New Deal?
  5. What is the meaning of Karl Marx‘ dictum  “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need“?

Ayn Rand was a supporter of capitalism, of individualism, of free-market economics, of libertarianism (自由主義思想 ).

She believed that capitalism was losing popularity because many people did not fully understand the true meaning of capitalism and of socialism, nor did they understand the philosophical, economic, and moral basis for capitalism. She wrote her novels partly to educate people about these matters and partly to illustrate her philosophy “in action”.

We discussed the philosophies or principles underlying what Hank Rearden says and what his mother says.

One principle which we did not discuss directly, but which is closely connected to our discussion today, is the principle (sometimes called the “axiom”) of non-aggression: that anything is permitted except the use of force or aggression against other people. People can use force or violence to defend themselves or their property, but may not initiate violence or aggression against other people to make them do things they do not want to do.

Ayn Rand believed in the power of philosophy. Philosophy – who needs it? is a good essay to read to understand why she thought philosophy was so important. Click  here for a Japanese translation).

For more information in Japanese about Ayn Rand, visit 藤森かよこの日本アイン・ランド研究会

Although she wrote about capitalism, Ayn Rand was not an economist. If you want to learn more about free-market economics, I recommend an easy-to-read book  Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt (I cannot find a Japanese translation of this; if you know of one, or – even better – a good Japanese book on free-market economics, please tell me).

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