Objectivism and Thomas Jefferson
Seven Essays on the Philosophy of Ayn Rand

 

5. Capitalism Over Self-Government, Cont'd


Under the guise of opposing "collectivism," what Rand is actually opposing is self-government, i.e., government of the people.

Law based on "objectively valid principles," however, ignores the fact that if there is law, there must be a lawgiver. Law emerges from a sovereign will, not from a philosophical principle. Principles are effective only in their influence on the holders of sovereignty. In a free society, we can criticize the results, and claim that certain acts are not in accordance with principle. But a free society can only be preserved by a free people, not by a set of rules, not even by the rule of law, for as Jefferson wrote:

In a free society, the people themselves are the ultimate law-giver, the ultimate sovereign. That is where the ultimate power rests. The people are the safest guardian of their own rights, but even they are not 100% safe. It is not possible to have a free society with absolute protection against the development of tyrannny, else it would not be free. Like free enterprise, a society must be free to fail in order for it to be free to succeed.

The dictionary defines "collectivism" as "a political or economic theory advocating collective control, esp. over production and distribution." In its true meaning, the term refers to national systems for the centralized control of the economy, especially systems like communism and fascism. It is a problematic term, because it can be used as a label and applied indescrimately to any activity whatsoever of a central government (and often is). Apparently, Ayn Rand and many Libertarians use it in a very broad sense, and apply it far beyond the central management of industry. Rand spoke of collectivism as follows:

But the moral base of true collectivism is not altruism, but despotism. It is an attempt to exercise central control over an economy, and hence a whole people. When Rand speaks of "collectivism," what she is referring to is the socialistic system that "altruistically" (using her caricature of the term) uses government to create a welfare state. But all of this rests on the perversion of both "collectivism" and "altruism."

If "collectivism" were held to the meaning in which it is normally understood, i.e., central control of economic production, we might have a basis for examining this ball of nebulous concepts. But the term is broadened in practice and application to include any regulation of free enterprise, any economic control that a free people might deem necessary for the general good.

Once we depart from the standard definition, however, the term "collectivism" can be applied as an epithet to denigrate any centrally administered function that we wish to oppose, while exempting any other central function if that function is more acceptable, calling the latter, perhaps, "protection of rights." Collectivism thus becomes a flexible term to be used for purposes of propaganda. It is frequently applied to any collective state action on behalf of the people. If used merely as an epithet in opposition to almost any kind of collective action, it is strongly adverse to the thought of Jefferson, who viewed the collective as the source of all authority in the nation.

"Collectivism" thus becomes another propaganda buzz word to be used in opposition to any act taken for the public good. It becomes another propaganda tool in the war against government of the people.

The meaning of a nation of equal rights for Rand is a nation of equal traders.

But the Trader is only involved in economic exchange. He has no concern or care for the welfare of the person he is "trading" with. Here, then, is the true symbol of alienated modern man, off to himself, and only dealing with others, not as human beings with a full range of concerns, but as entities engaged in economic exchange. Thus Rand replaces human relationships based on equality and bound together for mutual protection and benefit, with trade relationships based on the possession of trading equivalencies.

In reality, a trader is a salesman, and more often a manipulator. In practice, this idealistic sounding hokum becomes the justification for manipulation and deceit. The trader becomes the person who gets the best deal he can get by whatever means he can. There is no necessary morality in the trader. In fact, morality comes into play in order to instruct the trader how to trade responsibly. A Trader as an ideal is an individual behind a shield, dealing with people as though they were inanimate objects, mocking those who think otherwise.

Real talent is not enhanced by keeping it to oneself and separating oneself from society, but by sharing it and developing it by contributing to society. As one debater remarked, "A person becomes special through social interaction: by offering everyone else something they need and want." "NO ONE's talents--especially in fields like architecture--are indispensible to society. Society determines whose talents will be used." The development of talent and the development of the individual is in fact a social process! It is fantasy and folly to assume that individuals can take total credit for what they are able to achieve. "Rand's story was just allegory, and BAD allegory at that." This stuff appeals more to the immature who overvalue their significance in the world, or to theoreticians straining to justify an impracticable world-view. "In fact, successful people are always nice to the people who will benefit them. It is SOP. The anti-social are nothing, have nothing, and offer nothing. The anti-social become criminals, not successful business people." As a social animal, if we are to develop to our fullest capacity, we must do it in society with others, with the "collective."

Deprived of the social element, the individual becomes self-centered and self-obssessed--a worthless caricature of a human being, ill-adjusted and only able to be a productive member of society by being forced to overcome his immature rebellion by the need to survive. His justification for his actions reminds us of the rebellious teenager who rejects all external demands and tells his parents, "I didn't ask to come into this world!"


Alex Critchfield

 
Eyler Coates


The "new" virtues of this philosophy of the Trader are selfishness, self-centeredness, isolation, alienation, and arrogance. Unknown are the virtues of union and harmony as recognized by the Founders.

In her writings, Rand speaks often of the moochers, leeches, looters and other parasites: those who live by draining the resources of others who are the productive members of society. But there are no greater parasites than the persons whose philosophy enables them to enter into a nation of people, whether by birth or by choice, who absorb training and benefits from this association, who accumulate wealth by means of this association, and then who declare themselves individuals who owe that nation nothing other than what they consent to give, each as a separate individual, without regard to what the nation as a whole has deemed necessary for its survival, development and progress. Such an individual reserves to himself the decision whether these demands are legitimate or not, thus making himself, as an individual, sovereign over the will of a whole nation of people. When that is combined with the proneness of any given individual to self-interest in opposition to the general good, we are left with a nation in chaos and disintegration as each member places his will above the will of the nation itself. Rand's lack of vision was at an exceptionally basic level: the failure to see the individual as an intrinsic part of the whole.

NEXT ESSAY 6. Non-Initiation of Force
 

Go to the Essays

Front Page | 1. Reason as Absolute
2. Safety in Error | 3. Happiness as Moral Purpose
4. Selfishness as Virtue | 5. Capitalism Over Self-Government
6. Non-Initiation of Force | 7. Adversaries of Democracy


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