In this vein, I want to address a recent piece by Gary Moore published in Christianity Today magazine, entitled Ayn Rand: Goddess of the Great Recession.
This piece is chock full of unsubstantiated, false assertions and implications: Alan Greenspan and his Fed policies as representative of Objectivism (Rand’s philosophy), the alleged Nietzschean base of Ayn Rand’s ethics, charges of elitism, ascribing to her erroneous positions such as that “demons exist almost exclusively in government and religion” or that she is “anti-government”, etc., etc. Context-dropping, ad hominem, and straw man tactics are evident throughout this piece. To say that Moore plays fast and loose with Rand’s ideas would be an understatement. I and others have already answered these and other false charges, and I will not delve into all of them here.
That said, this article is particularly relevant on two main points that I want to address here; the title subject, and the underlying theme. As the title suggests, Moore blames philosopher Ayn Rand for the financial meltdown. This is preposterous on its face, but no matter. It is merely a prop to set the stage for the main event. It serves as a wedge into a crucially important fundamental philosophical issue that carries profound political/economic implications, and gets to the heart of Moore’s real purpose: an impassioned and even desperate attempt to defend the altruist ethics against a rational alternative.
Many religious conservatives and libertarians like Glenn Beck and John Stossel have promoted Ayn Rand for her prescient, long-ago predictions of the current economic troubles. But this interest is and always has been a limited embracement of her ideas. They typically cherry-pick the ideas that suit their purposes, while sidestepping the fundamental premises underlying her political-economic ideals.
Some, however, do pay attention to her fundamental ideas. Moore exhibits an apparent understanding that philosophy is the driving force of human events, and he has a warning for those Atlas Shrugged-waving Christian conservatives – “be wary”.
Though a self-described “Reaganomics supporter” and “lifelong conservative Republican”, he nonetheless brushes aside Rand’s pro-free market credentials to focus on her fundamental principles – which is the opposite approach of the conservative/libertarian targets of his warning who embrace her politics but ignore her underlying philosophy. He spends more than a bit of time chastising fellow Christian conservatives for their embrace of some of Rand’s ideas, because of her “anti-religious” views, despite the fact that there is a lot about Ayn Rand’s thought that they seem to agree with. One thing is certain: Christians who admire Ayn Rand do so at the price of a basic ethical contradiction. Moore rightly understands this. Ayn Rand offers up a powerful challenge to Christianity, the dominant force in America today. Consequently, Moore sends this message: Whatever value Ayn Rand’s pro-free market credentials offer to the conservative Right pales in comparison to this long-term threat.
Let’s begin with the headline itself, Ayn Rand: Goddess of the Great Recession. This sets the tone that permeates this article. It is utterly and demonstrably false. Ayn Rand championed laissez-faire capitalism. As has been exhaustively pointed out both here and elsewhere, our financial system was and is the opposite: a heavily regulated and controlled government creation, with a few remaining free market bits and pieces here and there. In the years and decades leading up to the Great Recession, the economy was increasingly burdened with a massive, interlocking network of governmental policies and institutions intended to manipulate the economy through the financial system. This network underpins the financial crisis. In fact, Ayn Rand long ago warned of just such a calamitous consequence of government intervention and controls. The current meltdown would not and could not have happened under laissez-faire capitalism, which means the separation of economy and state.
Moore, being a long-time financial analyst, should know better. He rightly condemns the quick-buck mentality that overtook some on Wall Street. But, by ignoring government’s primary role in igniting the blowup, Moore demolishes his own credibility. The financial crises was caused by the bursting of a gargantuan housing bubble fed by the inflationary fiat money policies of the Greenspan/Bernanke-led Federal Reserve Board. More broadly, the entire financial crisis is rooted in the altruistic government policies instituted to encourage and promote homeownership. “Wall Street’s” quick-buck artists were merely end-game speculators who were simply cashing in on a game started long ago in Washington. Yet Moore points to Ayn Rand, who supposedly is the darling of the financial interests who were allegedly guided by her ideas, as the culprit. Specifically, he blames her moral theories of rational selfishness; as if the chasing of the short-term profit at the price of the destruction of one’s firm and one’s job is rationally selfish.
Moore’s unsubstantiated polemic doesn’t warrant serious attention, and one must wonder why an expert in finance would engage in this kind of silliness. The “Great Recession” can be easily explained (and has been by Thomas Sowell, The Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, and many others) by reference to basic economics as it relates to government economic interference. (To access some of my extensive commentary on the sub-prime mortgage crisis, click here). Any conservative Reaganite Republican should understand this. And, I strongly suspect that Gary Moore does understand. But, a serious expose` of the financial crises is not Moore’s concern here: He has much bigger fish to fry.
Although the financial crisis headlines Moore’s article, it is merely a hook. The crisis serves as a convenient wedge issue, from which he can open an attack on Ayn Rand’s Objectivist ethics. Partway through the article we find this:
“Lutheran historian Martin Marty has observed, ‘Every line of the Bible is challenged, countered, and dismissed by the 1,168 pages of Atlas Shrugged.’ Charles Colson once noted Rand's ‘inversion of biblical norms,’ how she ‘exalts selfishness and condemns altruism.’ ”
This is true, and gets to the meat of the article. Dramatized through an un-put-downable action mystery, Atlas Shrugged – a deeply spiritual novel - outlines a revolutionary new philosophy, Objectivism, which Moore disrespectfully (or ignorantly) refers to as “Randism”. Through Atlas, Ayn Rand challenges virtually every central tenet of religion, Christianity in particular. Objectivism rejects the existence of a dual reality – the earthly and the otherworldly. Consequently, it rejects the soul-body, or mind-body, dichotomy, which holds that man’s spirit (or consciousness) belongs to a supernatural realm and his body to the material world, with the needs of the soul in direct conflict with the needs of the body. Objectivism sees man as an inseparable, harmonious union of soul and body – and dramatizes the spiritual source of material wealth production. These Objectivist tenets lead logically to a complete nullification of the idea of any kind of innate, instinctual, or revelatory knowledge, instead upholding the supremacy of reason as man’s only source of knowledge.
In many other areas, the Bible is “challenged, countered, and dismissed”. Christianity’s causeless, selfless, promiscuous “higher” form of love is rejected, in favor of a view that holds love between humans as a profoundly selfish exchange of both spiritual and physical values. The destructiveness of indiscriminate, undeserved forgiveness is exposed. The view of money, or the love of money, as the root of evil is rejected as anti-life; and the making of money upheld as the highest of human virtues. The pursuit of profit, passing moral judgement, and the ideal of making the achievement of one’s own values and happiness one’s central concern are upheld as the good. Charitable help extended toward others is shown to be proper only insofar as it is motivated by one’s own self-interest – i.e., consistent with one’s values - rather than as an act of “selflessness”.
So, Moore is right about Atlas Shrugged (although the main theme of the book is not an anti-religious one, but pro-reason; the role of the mind in man’s existence). But it is the field of ethics that Moore seems to be primarily concerned with. This hints at the one area of agreement between Moore and Rand: Moore would probably agree with Rand’s contention that ethics is the fundamental battleground upon which the future direction of America will ultimately be decided.
Moore opens the article with a quote from a biographer who quite obviously doesn’t understand Rand’s ethical system.
“Whereas traditional conservatism emphasized duties, responsibilities, and social interconnectedness, at the core of the right-wing ideology that Rand spearheaded was a rejection of moral obligations to others.”
Where did Ayn Rand ever promote the idea of “a rejection of moral obligations to others”? The real issue is not moral obligations, but the nature of those obligations. The issue is not “social interconnectedness”, but the nature of social relationships. Through Burns, Moore is able to sidestep these questions. Rand defends every man’s moral right to his own life and pursuit of happiness, which necessarily implies an inescapable moral corollary. Her ethics stands on a profound moral obligation that each of us owes to others and that is vital to proper human relationships: to respect, and refrain from violating, the rights of others – their right to their own life and pursuit of happiness. This means a moral obligation never to initiate the use of physical force against others. Live and let live. It’s the core social moral obligation, and the one that Gary Moore must reject. That is because altruism, the doctrine that Moore defends throughout the entire article, holds that the needs of others is the first moral claim on your life, and vice-versa. This principle is antipodal to the concept of rights, and thus to the moral obligation to respect the rights of others.
This explains why individual rights, a passionate concern of Rand’s that stands as a central feature of her philosophic system, doesn’t warrant a single passing mention. That’s a strong clue to Moore’s ethical moorings. Moore doesn’t dare attack individual rights openly. To do so would be a direct attack on America and its Founding Fathers. Instead, he ignores any explicit mention at all. But, make no mistake: An attack on egoism is an attack on individual rights and the Declaration of Independence. Moore is no champion of rights – no altruist is or can be. The concept of individual rights means precisely the right to be free from force and compulsion of others, including the government. Moore calls for “social justice” – i.e., welfare statism, a form of socialism. Social justice requires the violation of individual rights, which requires the violation of the core moral obligation to respect the rights of others, which clears the way for forcible wealth redistribution and government controls: i.e., the initiation of physical force by government against defenseless private citizens. Egoism, the code that holds that the individual owns his life, holds social justice as immoral. Altruism, the code that holds that the individual’s life is owned by others – i.e., “society”, which means the state – is vital to social justice government policies. It’s quite evident why the issue of rights is sidestepped. Rational selfishness and rights are corollaries.
Ayn Rand challenged the ethical dogmas of the past 2000 years that are now undermining and destroying America, capitalism, and the moral principle of unalienable individual rights that they rest upon. In so doing, she advanced a revolutionary new moral code. But, what is the nature of this code that “exalts selfishness and condemns altruism”? This is where Moore attempts to pull the wool over the readers’ eyes, by dropping all context. Let’s set the record straight.
Rand is famous for her embrace of selfishness as the moral ideal. But, Moore employs a gimmick to mislead the reader: He doesn’t acknowledge what Rand actually meant by the term “selfishness”. In point of fact, he ignores her definition of numerous key terms that pertain to the field of ethics, such as “altruism”, “sacrifice”, “individualism”, “values”, and “independence”. Understanding a philosopher’s definitions of terms is vital to proper context – a context that is conspicuously absent in Moore’s article. Ayn Rand took pains to clearly define her terms so as to avoid the kinds of misrepresentations evidenced here. Those definitions and many others that relate to her philosophy are readily available. By failing to identify her terms, Moore exhibits extraordinary intellectual sloppiness.
Ayn Rand rejected the ethics of human sacrifice completely and in its two main manifestations – self-sacrifice for the sake of others: and other-sacrifice to one’s own ends. Rand exposed altruism and Nietzschean “egoism” as two sacrificial sides of the same evil, predatory coin. (Nietzsche’s predatory ethics is a close approximation of the definition of “selfishness” generally accepted today – trampling over others to achieve one’s ends. It is utterly disingenuous that Rand critics such as Gary Moore regularly equate her ethics to Nietzsche’s. Moore’s “social justice” is precisely based upon a “will to power” by those who seek to practice charity with other people’s forcibly confiscated tax money; stands on the rejection of “a moral obligation” to respect the individual rights of others; and is consequently the rejection of individual rights, which is the very moral principle that Ayn Rand passionately defends throughout her fiction and non-fiction writings. If Moore’s “social justice” isn’t a precise manifestation of Nietzschean ethics, nothing is.)
Contrary to the false implication Moore attempts to inculcate here, Rand actually condemned what is conventionally understood as “selfishness”. Rand upheld rational selfishness; neither the sacrifice of oneself to others or the sacrifice of others to oneself. She likewise exposed the predatory nature of altruism, which enthrones the unearned as the only moral absolute. She uncovered the phony intellectual package deals that falsely equate selfishness with exploitation of others, and altruism with good will and human brotherhood. The result is a benevolent “new concept of egoism” that is consistent with, rather than antagonistic to, human and metaphysical nature.
She showed true selfishness to be a benevolent, life-promoting, rights-respecting, non-sacrificial virtue that leads to the kind of human brotherhood that altruists have always promised but always failed to deliver. A society of rational egoists views others as owners of their own lives and property, which in practice establishes associations where people appeal to another’s mind and self-interest under a rights-respecting social order. People are morally free to pursue, achieve, and hold the values that enrich their lives. They are free to seek values from others, but only by means of the trader principle: the exchange of value for value, in win-win non-sacrificial voluntary associations. The antipode to egoism is a society of altruists that views others as sacrificial objects, and which in practice unleashes the parasites and the power-lusters – the collectors and the dispensers of others' sacrifices: the seekers of the unearned in matter and in spirit.
Ayn Rand exposed altruism in all of its forms to be contrary to human nature – i.e., to reality – and thus inimical to human life and well being. Likewise, she showed egoism to be the pro-life source of human well-being, because it is fully consistent with human nature. Altruists cling to the failed morality laid down by Jesus two thousand years ago (and reinforced and brought to its full, consistent, brutal fruition by Immanuel Kant), concocting the doctrine of Original Sin to switch the blame for its devastation to man's nature so as to avoid a reexamination of their code. Ayn Rand ripped the veneer off of that cynical game, when she rescued ethics from religion's monopolistic hold and installed it into its proper place in philosophy: She approached ethics as a science. She observed the requirements of man’s survival and flourishing and thus gave man what he deserves – a moral guide to promote his life, rather than prepare him for death. She called hers “a philosophy for living on earth”. She asserted every person’s right to a moral existence. She defined a rational code of morality, derived from the observable facts of reality, which teaches that it is right to achieve values and to flourish - and defined the virtues that achievement requires. In so doing, she established for capitalism and for America the moral-philosophical foundation that it didn’t have at its birth.
I have a warning of my own for conservatives and libertarians: Be wary of Gary Moore, if they are sincere believers in free markets.
Moore’s is a plea for statism: more government control, more wealth redistribution, and more erosion of freedom - all of which requires the saving of the altruist ethics. He correctly recognizes his enemy – Ayn Rand – whom he indicts, tries, and convicts in the kangaroo court of ad hominem, straw man, and context-dropping. Yet Rand merely defends every person’s right to the pursuit of his own happiness by his own judgement and effort in honest, voluntary associations with others, while Moore demands that that person focus his efforts on promoting the happiness of others, who somehow are not “centered on the self”. Rand defends one’s moral right to the earned values that make his life meaningful, while Moore imposes a moral duty to sacrifice those values to anyone who has not earned them – and means to enforce that duty by governmental force. Moore trivializes private, voluntary charity, and demands coerced "charity" through the predatory welfare state, to force everyone to conform to his moral standards. Who, then, is the elitist? Who, then, is the utopian? Who, just like every altruist/statist, sees himself as “superior to any category of human who had ever lived”?
To Gary Moore I can assure: Conservatives and libertarians are a long way from Ayn Rand. Conservatives are mired in tradition, mindlessly adhering to old ideas, not because they are demonstrably right but simply because they are old. Libertarians profess a broad but vague agenda of “liberty” and “limited government”, but which lacks the kind of meaningful depth that only a coherent philosophy can provide. Though he acknowledges that “Rand formally rejected libertarianism”, Moore nonetheless engages in a grossly irresponsible equivocation of the two based simply on an observation that “libertarians nonetheless admire her”. This kind of straw man tactic is indicative of a lack of intellectual courage on the part of Moore, who refuses to challenge the Objectivist ethics openly. Moore’s readers should take careful note: Objectivism stands apart from both conservatism and libertarianism. Objectivism alone talks about individual rights, where they originate, and their moral justification. Neither conservatives nor libertarians have the courage to really embrace Objectivism, or explicitely uphold individual rights. Moore is desperate to keep it that way.
As I said early on, Gary Moore apparently understands that ethics is the overriding cultural issue of our time. Ayn Rand concurs. More than half a century ago, she wrote:
“You have heard it said that this is an age of moral crisis.
“Yes, this is an age of moral crisis. Yes, you are bearing punishment for your evil. But it is not man who is now on trial and it is not human nature that will take the blame. It is your moral code that’s through, this time. Your moral code has reached its climax, the blind alley at the end of its course. And if you wish to go on living, what you now need is not to return to morality-you who have never known any-but to discover it.” (pages 1009, 1011)
Through his desperate attempts to extinguish Ayn Rand, Gary Moore does hit the philosophical nail on the head. The battle for freedom, capitalism, the Enlightenment, America, and Western Civilization is a battle between two diametrically opposed moral codes – the entrenched altruist code of the past two thousand years (and longer), and the code of rational egoism implicit in America’s founding documents and undergirding the principle of individual rights, and made explicit by Ayn Rand. The battle for America’s soul and future is a battle between capitalism and socialism; between individualism and collectivism; between egoism and altruism. It is essentially, as Gary Moore understands, a battle between Christianity and Ayn Rand, who discovered and defined capitalism’s moral code – a code proper to man and his rational nature.
If America is to be saved, long term - rather than go the way of ancient Rome, taking the rest of the world with her – she will need a proper moral/philosophical foundation. Ayn Rand has now provided it. For this, Ayn Rand deserves the title of America’s Last Founding Father. Her work is the completion of the American Revolution, and a monumental advance in the moral evolution of mankind. She’s that important a thinker. If America’s rightful philosophic foundation is ever to take hold, however, the reactionary defenders of the primitive code of human sacrifice will have to be swept into the dustbin of history.