Objectivism and Objectivists: A critical perspective
(21-May-2011, 05:37 AM)arvindiyer Wrote: The acknowledged influences on Ayn Rand are many, and her early life in the Soviet Union including first-hand experience of a 'university purge of the bourgeoisie' is an influence that cannot be summarily discounted, as is evidenced in her first major literary work, We the Living.

Johann Hari wrote a piece and had a podcast episode on Ayn Rand where he goes over her life and explains how an unhappy childhood and horrors of Bolshevism could have influenced her crazy Objectivist ideas. But the irony is that her Objectivism was just as totalitarian as communism.

Some interesting quotes from Hari's article below.

Quote:Rand believed the Bolshevik lie that they represented the people, so she wanted to strike back at them—through theft and murder. In a nasty irony, she was copying their tactics. She started to write her first novel, We the Living(1936), and in the early drafts her central character—a crude proxy for Rand herself—says to a Bolshevik: "I loathe your ideals. I admire your methods. If one believes one's right, one shouldn't wait to convince millions of fools, one might just as well force them."


Rand was broken by the Bolsheviks as a girl, and she never left their bootprint behind. She believed her philosophy was Bolshevism's opposite, when in reality it was its twin. Both she and the Soviets insisted a small revolutionary elite in possession of absolute rationality must seize power and impose its vision on a malleable, imbecilic mass. The only difference was that Lenin thought the parasites to be stomped on were the rich, while Rand thought they were the poor.
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In Atlas Shrugged, Francisco d'Anconia says during a party conversation:

Quote:Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men's stupidity, but your talent to their reason; it demands that you buy, not the shoddiest they offer, but the best that your money can find. And when men live by trade--with reason, not force, as their final arbiter--it is the best product that wins, the best performance, the man of best judgment and highest ability--and the degree of a man's productiveness is the degree of his reward. This is the code of existence whose tool and symbol is money. Is this what you consider evil?

He continues with a tribute to American society as Rand imagines it.
Quote:To the glory of mankind, there was, for the first and only time in history, a country of money--and I have no higher, more reverent tribute to pay to America, for this means: a country of reason, justice, freedom, production, achievement. For the first time, man's mind and money were set free, and there were no fortunes-by-conquest, but only fortunes-by-work, and instead of swordsmen and slaves, there appeared the real maker of wealth, the greatest worker, the highest type of human being--the self-made man--the American industrialist.

A man's productiveness is central to the worldview of Rand and to her vision of the ideal type of human being and civilization. Philosopher Martha Nussbaum's longstanding work on the capabilities approach to ethics articulates a vision for civilization which assiduously avoids the historical error of glorifying as the ideal type a certain type of human being, such as a 'self-made man' or a certain human activity, namely 'production' to the exclusion of so many other aspects of the human condition. Like a teenage obsession with action-heros, Rand's fiction has an obsession with production-heros as it were, who continue not only to retain some appeal in popular culture but have historically been accompanying emblems to national mottos 'New Spirit of the Age' which according to Prof. Chomsky can be stated as "Gain wealth, forgetting all but self." and has been promoted institutionally rather than just via fiction of the Randian variety.

Nussbaum traces these ideas farther back in history than Chomsky does, showing how even the imagined participants in the 'thought experiments' on which many Enlightenment-Era social visions are based, seem scarcely distinguishable from Randian heros. For instance, the Hobbesian social contract is imagined as one that is negotiated by persons able to hold their own in a State of Nature, which according to Nussbaum already amounts to shutting out participation the social contract to those who will not be able to independently survive in such a scenario. The Hobbesian view hasn't been confined to thought experiments, but has influenced both the course of history and the direction of policy. The settlers in America saw themselves as conquerors of a prevailing State of Nature and thereby claimed legitimacy of their policy of excluding the natives from participation in the social contract. A concrete illustration of this is Locke's definition of cultivation as a criterion for ownership, discussed in Michael Sandel's Justice course and here, also discussed here. Civilization itself was therefore seen as establishing and safeguarding a certain mode of production, and it is such safeguarding by a military-industrial-complex maintained for the purpose and by muzzling of dissent that is the topic of many of Chomsky's writings like this excerpt.

While articulating an alternative vision for civilization in which the participants in the social contract and the discourse are not just hardy men who settle the wilderness and create a society that helps them make and keep profits, Nussbaum interestingly works off of Aristotle, incidentally one of Rand's heros. To Aristotle, Nussbaum gives the credit that is due for more broadly imagining the advancement of human potential and fulfilment of purpose as the ends which social organization must serve, rather than the more narrowly imagined goal of maximizing profit. Aristotle however was less broad in his imagination of different kinds of human potential itself, most egregiously in his failure to recognize genuinely human potential in the slaves of his time. In this excerpt from the documentary Examined Life, Martha Nussbaum explains the capabilities approach as a principle for social organization that responds to all forms of human potential, and responds to the State of Nature through endeavours for mutual care rather than driven by mutual advantage. The capabilities approach is what provided philosophical backup for the treatment of HDI with at least as much seriousness as GDP while studying the 'wealth of nations'.

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