President Trump is No Ayn Rand Hero

President Trump is No Ayn Rand Hero

The writers at The Washington Post would have us believe that Donald Trump’s cabinet picks resemble heroes from the pages of Ayn Rand’s novels (“The Daily 202: Ayn Rand-acolyte Donald Trump stacks his cabinet with fellow objectivists“).

As a best-selling novelist and philosopher, Ayn Rand authored both fiction (Atlas Shrugged, We The Living, and The Fountainhead) and non-fiction (Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Philosophy: Who Needs It, and The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism) books. If one actually reads Ayn Rand’s books one discovers that Trump would be a villain (perhaps a minor villain, but a villain none the less).

Most people are aware of Trump’s beliefs, but, what of Ayn Rand’s?

 

What did Ayn Rand believe?

Observe:

  • Ayn Rand was an advocate of free trade between free countries (unilateral if necessary). Quoting Rand: “The essence of capitalism’s foreign policy is free trade—i.e., the abolition of trade barriers, of protective tariffs, of special privileges—the opening of the world’s trade routes to free international exchange and competition among the private citizens of all countries dealing directly with one another.” In her view, countries to not trade, but actual people do.
  • Ayn Rand was for liberal immigration, especially for productive individuals (she would have no limits on H-1B visas). As an immigrant, under Trump’s policies, she would probably have died in a Socialist Russia concentration camp rather than coming to the U.S.
  • Ayn Rand was a principled defender of free speech for both corporations speaking against statist policies, and misguided college students burning flags, as neither are violating the rights of anyone. Quoting Rand: “The communists and the Nazis are merely two variants of the same evil notion: collectivism. But both should be free to speak—evil ideas are dangerous only by default of men advocating better ideas.”
  • Ayn Rand was a fiery opponent of racism which she regarded as a species of collectivism, that — like fascism and communism — unjustly benefits the chosen group at the expense of individual rights.
  • Ayn Rand was an uncompromising defender of a women’s right to abortion who would make feminists blush. Quoting Rand: “Abortion is a moral right—which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body?”
  • Ayn Rand was a non-militant atheist, who was philosophically for reason as opposed to religious faith (“blind belief, belief unsupported by, or contrary to, the facts of reality and the conclusions of reason”) which she regarded as the “negation of reason.”
  • Ayn Rand was an advocate of the separation of church and state.
  • Ayn Rand was an advocate of voluntary trade for mutual gain and benefit in both material and spiritual values. Quoting from Atlas Shrugged: “The principle of trade is the only rational ethical principle for all human relationships, personal and social, private and public, spiritual and material. It is the principle of justice.” She correctly observed that such a voluntary trade is a win-win situation.
  • Ayn Rand was for the sanctity of property rights and would have nothing but contempt for Trump’s securing property via eminent domain. Quoting Ayn Rand: “The right to life is the source of all rights—and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life. The man who produces while others dispose of his product, is a slave.”
  • Ayn Rand was a radical for laissez-faire capitalism. She even published a non-fiction book of essays on the subject called Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. Quoting Rand: “Capitalism has created the highest standard of living ever known on earth. The evidence is incontrovertible. The contrast between West and East Berlin is the latest demonstration, like a laboratory experiment for all to see. Yet those who are loudest in proclaiming their desire to eliminate poverty are loudest in denouncing capitalism. Man’s well-being is not their goal.”

The Post piece does mention these views occasionally, but takes no time to explore them and “connect the dots.” At other times The Post makes patently false claims, such as, “Roark, the character Trump says he identifies with, rapes a woman in The Fountainhead,” when in fact, Ayn Rand described that scene as a “rape by engraved invitation,” i.e., consensual sex.

 

Ayn Rand was a philosopher advocating the supremacy of reason

Today Ayn Rand is recognized as the philosopher who revolutionized Aristotle’s nature based, egoistic philosophy for life in the 20th century. (Those interested in a comprehensive academic treatment of Rand’s corpus should peruse A Companion to Ayn Rand (Blackwell Companions to Philosophy.)

Ayn Rand named her philosophy Objectivism and she described it as follows: “My philosophy, Objectivism, holds that…”

  1. Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.
  2. Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses) is man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.
  3. Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.
  4. The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. The government acts only as a policeman that protects man’s rights; it uses physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use, such as criminals or foreign invaders. In a system of full capitalism, there should be (but, historically, has not yet been) a complete separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.

Ayn Rand did not view individual rights as self-evident; rather, the concept of individual rights flowed from the fact that one’s survival and flourishing (life) in a social context requires the equal freedom to act by one’s mind (reason). Or, in her words:

“I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows. This—the supremacy of reason—was, is and will be the primary concern of my work, and the essence of Objectivism.”

 

Ayn Rand was the 20th century’s greatest advocate of freedom

In Rand’s view, there are only two ways people can deal with each other: by force (physical coercion) or reason (peaceful persuasion). The job of government is to use the first to protect the second. Rand regarded individual rights not as permissions to be regulated at government whim, but as inalienable. Government’s role is to protect individual rights by banning the initiation (starting) of physical force (which is the only way rights can be violated).

Ayn Rand’s opposition to government coercion is why those associated with the Alt-Right, and the equally bigoted Regressive-Left, despise and defame Ayn Rand: their vision of a government regulated world requires the threat and initiation of physical force by the state. Both the Alt-Right and the Regressive-Left regard rights as alienable privileges to be violated and dispensed with as their ideology sees fit. To the Alt-Right and Regressive Left, Ayn Rand is a mortal enemy.

 

Objectivists would regard Trump’s ideology as perverting his “good” policy positions

This is not to say that Rand, would oppose all of Trump’s policy positions, but it is enough to show that Trump’s cabinet is not Objectivist.

Writes resident philosopher at the Ayn Rand Institute Onkar Ghate on Trump’s victory in his essay, “One Small Step for Dictatorship“:

“A Trump administration, if viewed out of the full context, may even enact some measures others and I would regard as positive, including improvements to the tax code and replacement of Obamacare with something less harmful. But it will be in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons. And even at this concrete level of policy, the Republican control of the presidency, the House and the Senate should give anyone pause who is concerned about, say, the campaign’s demonization of immigrants and of trade or the attempt to impose a Christian variant of Sharia law.”

 

Being an Atlas Shrugged fan does not make one an Objectivist

Reading Atlas Shrugged does not make one an Objectivist any more than reading the Koran makes one a radical for Islam. How the Washington Post conflates Donald Trump’s anti-freedom policies with Ayn Rand’s philosophy boggles the mind. In their list of Trump cabinet picks, there is one real Ayn Rand hero — former BB&T CEO John Allison — whom Trump rejected.

If one wishes to know what an actual Objectivist thinks of Trump’s electoral victory study Dr. Ghate’s essay; and if one wants to grasp Ayn Rand’s ideas in their totality there is no better book then Leonard Peikoff’s Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. One does not have to agree with the arguments in Dr. Peikoff’s book, but at least one will not be attacking a straw man. Only then can an honest, intelligent discussion of Ayn Rand’s benevolent, life-enhancing, human “philosophy for living on earth” begin.

 

John Allison Meets with Trump

Photo: Ken Bennet/ Wake Forest University

From journalnow.com:

1. Allison is an Objectivist who supports pro-capitalist policies

Allison said Trump also sought his advice as an outside-the-box thinker that includes being a devotee of author Ayn Rand and her economic philosophy of objectivism, which extols rational individualism, creativity, independent thinking and a limited role for government as a protector of peace.

2. Allison calls Goldman Sach’s “crony capitalists”

[…] Allison was critical of Goldman Sachs’ role in the financial crisis, calling the investment company “crony capitalists,” in his 2013 book “The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure.” Mnuchin’s “history on Wall Street is not something that I am all that thrilled about,” Allison said.

3. Trump invitation comes from Pence who supports Allison’s theories on the financial crisis and also opposes TARP and eminent domain

[…] The Trump invitation came from Pence, who previously asked Allison to speak at congressional hearings about his theories on how the financial crisis occurred and his recommendations for avoiding another severe economic blow. Pence also supported Allison’s stances on TARP and eminent domain. “He thought my book was one of the best explanation of the crisis,” Allison said. “As such, he was kind enough to inform the president-elect of my qualifications to serve in his administration.”

4. Financial Choice Act is a first step that will provide an “off-ramp” to get off Dodd-Frank

Allison said he supports proposed legislation in the U.S. House, known as the Financial Choice Act, that he says would restore accountability and responsibility to the financial-services industry. The act would provide an “off-ramp from the post-Dodd-Frank supervisory regime and Basel III capital and liquidity standards for organizations that choose to maintain high levels of capital,” he said. Those financial-services companies who can’t meet those capital criteria would remain subject to Dodd-Frank regulations.

The act would require banks to remain subject to publicly disclosed regulatory stress tests but exempt those that achieve the assigned capital levels from regulatory limitations on purchases. The act also would require that “consumers be vigorously protected from fraud and deception, as well as the loss of economic liberty” and “taxpayer bailouts of financial institutions must end and no company can remain too big to fail,” he said.

5. Allison as FED Chairman?

[…] He expressed his concerns that the Federal Reserve, particularly under Chair Janet Yellen, has limited economic growth through what he considers to be burdensome regulations that may make sense to regulators but not on Main Street in terms of creating demand for loans in particular from entrepreneurs and small businesses.

When asked about his interest in serving as Fed chairman, Allison said that while he would be interested because of the opportunity to change lending policies, “I don’t know if I could get through Congress.” “It may seem old-fashioned or quaint, but I still believe in making loans by sitting across the table from the applicant and getting to know them as much as learning about their reasons for borrowing,” he said. “I believe if regulators would step back with some of the regulations, consumers tend to figure out the good and bad players in the marketplace.”

Penzler on Ayn Rand

From Otto Penzler: By the Book – The New York Times

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

I have virtually all the books written by Ayn Rand, several read more than once. She was the first person to have articulated so many of the things that I knew but hadn’t fully clarified.

[…]

Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?

The hero has to be Howard Roark from “The Fountainhead,” who has been a source of courage for me through the years. Tied for second would be Sherlock Holmes and Philip Marlowe. And Lassie deserves a mention. Antihero is Raffles, the gentleman jewel thief created by Arthur Conan Doyle’s brother-in-law, E. W. Hornung.

A great interview with one of today’s popular mystery writers.

Great Deal for Students! Ayn Rand Student Conference: November 4-6, Atlanta GA

From Ayn Rand Student Conference 2016:

Join us November 4 to 6 in Atlanta, GA, at the Ayn Rand Student Conference 2016 (#AynRandCon) for an in-depth exploration of the concept of free will from the perspective of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. Rand — the novelist, philosopher and cultural icon famous for her bestselling novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged — developed a new account of free will, one that underpins the distinctive view of good and evil and of heroism that runs through her novels.

Rejecting the false alternative of “nature vs. nurture,” Rand advanced a radical view of man, which holds that you are “a being of self-made soul,” capable of exercising fundamental control over your own thinking, actions and character. Far from viewing belief in free will as a superstition incompatible with science, Rand argued that the facts support the existence of free will and that it’s unscientific — as well as disastrous personally and culturally — to dismiss free will as illusory.

At #AynRandCon you’ll hear leading experts on Rand’s philosophy discuss the nature of free will and its implications for your life and for a range of current controversies, from inequality to free speech to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. You’ll hear from practitioners inspired by Rand’s message to take control of their fates and build the kind of career and life they wanted. You’ll meet other students who love Rand’s novels and are learning how to apply her ideas to their own lives. And you’ll have the chance to network with speakers, professionals and students.

Also if you are a student please note…

All students will receive a scholarship covering their travel, lodging and registration expenses.

Learn more at Ayn Rand Student Conference 2016.

PBS Cummins Still Gets Rand Wrong

 

Greg Salmieri makes some fine points in his post Another Critic Who Doesn’t Care What Rand Thought or Why She Thought It, Only That She’s Wrong:

Cummins still gets Rand wrong on a number of points, and I think she does so because she isn’t really interested in getting her right. This is a common problem when people write about those whom they regard as ideological enemies. They come at the enemy’s texts with a preconceived idea of what she thinks, why she thinks it, and how her view can be refuted; and then they look for passages that cohere with this, rather than approaching the texts with the question “What does this person think and why?” Cummins has Rand pigeon-holed as a thinker of a certain sort, who occupies a certain foolish position in a familiar debate about egoism and altruism, and she shows no interest in testing that hypothesis, or (better) in putting the hypothesis aside temporarily to see what emerges from a straightforward reading of the texts. This is a mistake we all have to work hard not to fall into when addressing authors whose views we regard as opposite to our own.

[…]

Such pieces are vehicles through which those who find Rand distasteful can commiserate with one another and preen over their own erudition, without engaging people who think differently or contributing to any productive inquiry. Sure, there’s some combing through a few of Rand’s articles to find passages to gripe about, and there may even occasionally be decent arguments about stray points, but there isn’t any real intellectual engagement—no attempt to identify and evaluate the theses, arguments, and themes that so many readers find enlightening and inspiring in Rand’s works. The frequency of such gripes, especially in the last several years, attests to the enduring place Rand has earned in American thought. It is high time that those who find her ideas uncongenial accept this fact and begin treating her accordingly.

Ayn Rand on How to Pick a President

Jonathan Hoenig over at Capitalistpig reminds us of philosopher Ayn Rand’s advice on “How to Pick a President?”:

“In view of the general confusion on this subject, it is advisable to remind prospective voters of a few basic considerations, as guidelines in deciding what one can properly expect of a political candidate, particularly of a presidential candidate.

One cannot expect, nor is it necessary, to agree with a candidate’s total philosophy — only with his political philosophy (and only in terms of essentials). It is not a Philosopher-King that we are electing, but an executive for a specific, delimited job. It is only political consistency that we can demand of him; if he advocates the right political principles for the wrong metaphysical reasons, the contradiction is his problem, not ours.

A contradiction of that kind, will, of course, hamper the effectiveness of his campaign, weaken his arguments and dilute his appeal — as any contradictions undercut any man’s efficacy. But we have to judge him as we judge any work, theory, or product of mixed premises: by his dominant trend.

A vote for any candidate does not constitute an endorsement of his entire position, not even of his entire political position, only of his basic political principles.

It is the basic — and, today, the only — issue by which a candidate must be judged: freedom vs. statism.

If a candidate evades, equivocates and hides his stand under a junk-heap of random concretes, we must add up those concretes and judge him accordingly. If his stand is mixed, we must evaluate it by asking: Will he protect freedom or destroy the last of it? Will he accelerate, delay, or stop the march towards statism?”

— Ayn Rand in The Objectivist Newsletter, March 1964

Star Wars Actor Oscar Isaac Joins The List of Hollywood Fans of Ayn Rand’s Books

Oscar Isaac — who starred in the seventh Star Wars film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), as X-wing pilot Poe Dameron is a fan of Ayn Rand’s epic, best-selling novel, Atlas Shrugged (or at least the t-shirt!). STAR WARS and Atlas Shrugged have two important similarities — they are epic morality stories where good and evil are clearly defined.

Star Wars Oscar Isaac Sports Atlas Shrugged t-shirt

The Star Wars hero joins Vince Vaughn (“The last book I read was the book I’ve been rereading most of my life— The Fountainhead.”), Rob Lowe (“Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand is a stupendous achievement and I just adore it.”), Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie (“I just think [Rand] has a very interesting philosophy…You reevaluate your own life and what’s important to you.”, Michael Caine (“The book I return to is Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. My first daughter was named after its heroine, Dominique Francon.”), Eva Mendes (“Any potential boyfriend “has to be an Ayn Rand fan.”), Tom SelleckSteven Spielberg and other Hollywood actors as a fan of great books.

They are not by any means Objectivists — individuals who explicitly understand and choose to live by Ayn Rand’s philosophy of reason, purpose and self-esteem — but they are fans of great literature and some aspects of her philosophy.

Related: A Tale of Two Novels: Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged vs James Joyce’s Ulysses

 

 

 

Correcting Distortions of Ayn Rand’s Views

Writes Amesh Adalja on ‘Average Folks’ commentary distorted Ayn Rand’s views | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Ayn Rand advocated unequivocally for laissez-faire capitalism, a system in which the individual rights of everyone — rich or poor, lazy or productive — are sacrosanct and there is a complete separation of state from economics. She did not, contrary to Mr. Margolis’ inaccurate piece, believe that public policy should “tilt” in favor of any group, and she decried corporate welfare and cronyism as she did other welfare-state programs. 

With the government removed from the realm of economics, any real unfairness would be eliminated as there would be no ability to grant favors to anyone (e.g., the ethanol subsidy), create market distortions that benefit some at the expense of others (e.g., solar power companies) and confiscate/​redistribute the wealth of all according to whatever formula panders to the most voters. 

The headline of Mr. Margolis’ piece references a “fair shot,” and I surmise that is where the real issue lies, for Mr. Margolis clearly has redefined the concept of “fair” to preclude anything but a system in which the economic class he favors gains at the expense of the ones he does not — a far cry from an actually fair system in which all individuals are able to benefit from the fruits of their own labor.

Check Your Premises: Professional Academic Philosophers Explore Ayn Rand’s Ideas

Check Your Premises is the blog of The Ayn Rand Society, a professional group affiliated with the American Philosophical Association Eastern Division.

According to Professor Ben Bayer the blog’s editor:

I will work to allow the contributors to this blog—all professional philosophers or aspiring professional philosophers—to share their own scholarship on Rand and their observations about the relevance of her ideas to contemporary philosophical debates. Some of these philosophers have already contributed to the rising tide of secondary literature on Rand in the last decade; others of us aspire to contribute in the future.

In either case, we are especially eager to raise awareness among philosophers about the actual content of Rand’s ideas. All too often, both philosophical and popular sources misrepresent and caricature Rand’s views. We seek to combat these inaccuracies whenever they appear in venues of note. At the same time, this blog will not shy away from considering fair-minded criticisms of Rand’s ideas.

The name of this blog traces back to the words of Francisco d’Anconia in Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged: “Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think that you are facing a contradiction, check your premises.” “Check your premises” would eventually become Rand’s motto as a cultural and political critic. In the 1960s, she ran a regular column in her periodicals by the same name.

Rand’s motto expressed her conviction that our actions are motivated, ultimately, by the implicit or explicit philosophical principles she thought we all hold. In her view, whether we form these premises on our own or accept them uncritically from others, it is the task of philosophy to check the truth of these premises and integrate them into a comprehensive view of reality. Rand thought everyone needs such a comprehensive view to flourish.

I presume that all who post to this blog, whether they agree with Rand or not, will share this overall attitude toward philosophy.

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