Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Tea Partier's Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand is popularly known to most tea party activists as "that atheist lady" whose ideas are aloof, idealistic, and impractical as far as operationalizing for a mass movement. I disagree (although I recognize she was an atheist). Rand has written what I consider to be the absolute, and hands-down, best motivational and objective texts for tea party activists out there - fifty years ago!

Though she is best known as a fiction writer and philosopher, she also wrote numerous essays on political matters that have direct bearing on the current plight of this country. Her penetrating analysis emanates from a deeper source than nearly any other author's and she profoundly illuminates on most issues when most observers can only shed light on them in a superficial, ad hoc, and scripted manner.

If you want to be an ideological warrior for the movement, I highly recommend Rand's works, and most appealingly for the tea party activist unfamiliar with her philosophy, Rand's collections of essays "The Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution" (which mostly reads like it was written yesterday), and "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal." These essay collections are accessible for anyone with the desire to understand them.

From her section on "The Schools," in Return of the Primitive (39-40):

Young people are constantly asking what they can do to fight today's disastrous trends; they are seeking some form of action, and wrecking their hopes in blind alleys, particularly every four years, at election time. Those who do not realize that the battle is ideological, had better give up, because they have no chance. Those who do realize it, should grasp that the student rebellion [at Berkeley] offers them a chance to train themselves for the kind of battle they will have to fight in the world, when they leave the university; a chance, not only to train themselves, but to win the first rounds of that wider battle.

If they seek an important cause, they have the opportunity to fight the rebels, to fight ideologically, on moral-intellectual grounds - by identifying and exposing the meaning of the rebels' demands, by naming and answering the basic principles which the rebels dare not admit. The battle consists, above all, of providing the country (or all within hearing) with ideological answers - a field of action from which the older generation has deserted under fire.

Ideas cannot be fought except by means of better ideas. The battle consists, not of opposing, but of exposing; not of denunciation, but of disproving; not of evading, but of boldly proclaiming a full, consistent and radical alternative.

This does not mean that rational students should enter debates with the rebels or attempt to convert them; one cannot argue with self-confessed irrationalists. The goal of an ideological battle is to enlighten the vast, helpless, bewildered majority in the universities - and in the country at large - or, rather. the minds of those among the majority who are struggling to find answers or those who, having heard nothing but collectivist sophistries for years, have withdrawn in revulsion and given up.

The first goal of such a battle is to wrest from a handful of beatniks the title of "spokesmen for American youth," which the press is so anxious to grant them. The first step is to make oneself heard, on the campus and outside. There are many civilized ways to do it: protest-meetings, public petitions, speeches, pamphlets, letters-to-editors. It is a much more important issue than picketing the United Nations or parading in support of the House Un-American Activities Committee. And while such futile groups as Young Americans for Freedom are engaged in such undertakings, they are letting the collectivist vanguard speak in their name - in the name of American college students - without any audible sound of protest.

But in order to be heard, one must have something to say. To have that, one must know one's case. One must know it fully, logically, consistently, all the way down to philosophical fundamentals. One cannot hope to fight nuclear experts with Republican pea-shooters. And the leaders behind the student rebellion are experts at their particular game.

But they are dangerous only to those who stare at the issues out of focus and hope to fight ideas by means of faith, feelings, and fund-raising. You would be surprised how quickly the ideologists of collectivism retreat when they encounter a confident, intellectual adversary. Their case rests on appealing to human confusion, ignorance, dishonesty, cowardice, despair. Take the side they dare not touch: appeal to human intelligence.

Collectivism has lost the two crucial weapons that raised it to world power and made all of its victories possible: intellectuality and idealism, or reason and morality. It had to lose precisely at the height of its success, since its claim to both was a fraud: the full actual reality of socialist-communist-fascist states has demonstrated the brute irrationality of collectivist systems and the inhumanity of altruism as a moral code.

Yet reason and morality are the only weapons that determine the course of history. The collectivists dropped them, because they had no right to carry them. Pick them up; you have.

Ayn Rand, July-September 1965

More Ayn Rand sources, especially those that can be pamphleterized, are highly welcome.


Reaganx said...

I've read this book. It's brilliant. Btw, you should read the most fundamental and comprehensive philosophical books of the Objectivist movement - Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Peikoff and Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology by Ayn Rand. Currently, I'm also reading the Romantic Manifesto - a summary of Objectivist aesthetics.

Reaganx said...

As to your question about Mises, he was perhaps the best economist of the 20th century. The Misean exposition of praxeology is the true method of economic research, as opposed to mainstream economics (Ayn Rand believed him to be the best economist ever, btw).
However, Misean subjectivism is sometimes erroneously opposed to Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. In fact, as far as economics is concerned, they don’t contradict each other. Economics is “subjective” in the sense that it should not analyze the character of individuals’ subjective value-judgments. For an economist, the choices of a person who wants to buy a book and a person who wants to buy heroin are equally valid.
Meanwhile, when Mises attempts to assert that economics and science in general are “value-free”, he is wrong. Economics and jurisprudence are derivatives of political philosophy, which is a derivative of ethics, which is the science that studies values. This is the relativist part of Misean heritage that I dislike. Mises’ utilitarianism is also wrong, I believe.
I’ve read Human Action, Economic Calculation in a Socialist Commonwealth, and parts of Liberalism, Socialism, Omnipotent Government, Theory and History and the Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science.