This article is from TOS Vol. 7, No. 3. The full contents of the issue are listed here.
Ayn Rand: America’s Comeback Philosopher
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have labeled themselves “America’s Comeback Team”—a political tagline that would be great were it grounded in a philosophical base that gave it objective, moral meaning.
What, politically speaking, does America need to “come back” to? And what, culturally speaking, is necessary for the country to support that goal?
America was founded on the principle of individual rights—the idea that each individual is an end in himself and has a moral prerogative to live his own life (the right to life); to act on his own judgment, un-coerced by others, including government (liberty); to keep and use the product of his effort (property); and to pursue the values and goals of his choosing (pursuit of happiness).
Today, however, legal, regulatory, or bureaucratic obstacles involved in any effort to start or operate a business, to purchase health insurance, to plan for one’s retirement, to educate one’s children, to criticize Islam for advocating violence, or so much as to choose a lightbulb indicate how far we’ve strayed from that founding ideal.
If America is to make a comeback—and if what we are to come back to is recognition and protection of individual rights—then Americans must embrace more than a political tagline; we must embrace a philosophy that undergirds individual rights and that gives rise to a government that does one and only one thing: protects rights.
Although the philosophy of the Founding Fathers was sufficient ground on which to establish the Land of Liberty, it was not sufficient to maintain liberty. The founders advocated the principle of individual rights, but they did not fully understand the moral and philosophical foundations of that principle; they did not understand how rights are grounded in observable fact. Nor did the thinkers who followed them. This is why respect for rights has been eroding for more than a century.
If America is to “come back” to the recognition and protection of rights, Americans must discover and embrace the philosophical scaffolding that undergirds that ideal, the scaffolding that grounds the principle of rights in perceptual fact and gives rise to the principle that the only proper purpose of government is to protect rights by banning force from social relationships.
The philosophy that provides this scaffolding is Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism.
To see why, let us look at Rand’s philosophy in contrast to the predominant philosophies of the day: religion, the basic philosophy of conservatism; and subjectivism, the basic philosophy of modern “liberalism.” We’ll consider the essential views of each of these philosophies with respect to the nature of reality, man's means of knowledge, the nature of morality, the nature of rights, and the proper purpose of government. At each stage, we’ll highlight ways in which their respective positions support or undermine the ideal of liberty.
As a brief essay, this is, of course, not a comprehensive treatment of these philosophies; rather, it is an indication of the essentials of each, showing how Objectivism stands in contrast to religion and subjectivism and why it alone supports a culture of freedom.
The Nature of Reality
Objectivism stands in sharp contrast to religion and subjectivism from the outset because, whereas religion holds that there are two realities (nature and supernature), and whereas subjectivism holds that there is no reality (only personal opinion and social convention), Objectivism holds that there is one reality (this one before our eyes). Let’s flesh out these differences and their significance with respect to liberty. . . .