There’s been a resurgence of interest in the objectivist moral philosophy of Ayn Rand. If you listen carefully you can hear much of her thought in the speeches of the extreme libertarians. I’ve wondered for years whether or not Rand is Rush Limbaugh’s primary philosophical influence.
There’s an article on Rand and her thinking in the Globe and Mail today. In the middle of the article, the author points out the shadow side of Rand’s arguments. She connects something I hand’t thought about before. Rand’s hyper positivism argues for an objective truth – and totally rejects any sense of subjectivism. In an perfect world, the disputation of competing claims leads one to determine what is true and what is false. And the false must be rejected and the truth followed.
But casting the Universe into binary terms, while naively useful scientifically, can have deadly consequences in terms of morality:
“In pure form, Ayn Rand’s philosophy would work very well if human beings were never helpless and dependent on others through no fault of their own. Unsurprisingly, many people become infatuated with her philosophy as teenagers only to leave it behind when concerns of family, children, and aging make that fantasy seem more and more implausible. For some, she becomes a conduit to more sensible small-government philosophies.
But Ms. Rand’s work also has a darker, more disturbing aspect – one that, unfortunately, is all too good a fit for this moment in America’s political life. That is her intellectual intolerance and her tendency to demonize her opponents. Speaking through her hero John Galt, Ms. Rand declared, ‘There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil.’ She lambasted free-market theorists such as Friedrich A. Hayek for their lack of purity in allowing the government a legitimate role in alleviating poverty and its effects. In her novels, supporters of various forms of collectivism – moochers and looters – are shown as acting by stealth to take over and corrupt society and culture.”
From here. (H/T to Kendall Harmon)
I’ve had any number of conversations lately with folks about the broken legislative processes in Congress, and the parallel inability of even the Church to find ways of allowing people to feel included in its common life. One of the reoccurring themes of modern debate is that the people in the middle are basically weak, timid obstructionists who need to decide one way or the other so that the final decision can be made. You can hear this from both sides in modern debate. The moderates are to be pitied at best and converted one way or the other if at all possible. It’s apparently inconceivable that there can be any value in moderation to many.
Bishop Marshall once remarked of conflicts in the Church that we tend to “learn and then adopt the values of our oppressors”. I wonder if the Episcopal Church in the 20th century, which has been forced again and again to try to justify her existence to people and a society who believe we’ve grown beyond that need, and who have elevated the individuals right to happiness over that of the needs of the broader community, hasn’t fallen into that trap Bishop Marshall describes.