This article is from TOS Vol. 7, No. 3. The full contents of the issue are listed here.
Ayn Rand: America’s Comeback Philosopher
During the 2012 U.S. presidential race, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan 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.
Rand’s philosophy holds that reality is real, that “existence exists,” and that it is the given, the starting point and touchstone for all philosophical inquiry. There is not and cannot be anything apart from, prior to, or that is the cause of reality or existence or the universe (these are synonyms here). A thing apart from reality is not real; it is pretend. A thing such as a “God” who existed “prior to the universe” and who “created” the universe is a contradiction in terms: Where, prior to the universe, did he exist? What did he use to create existence? If reality can’t exist without a creator, how can the creator exist without a creator? Who created him? What created that? And so on. Such questions show the futility of the notion that a being created reality.
According to Objectivism, existence or the universe as such has no creator. Existence is the primary, the given, the thing that has always existed and that needs no causal explanation. Things within the universe can and often need to be explained; the universe itself cannot and need not be. Existence simply exists.
In looking outward at reality, we can see that everything that exists is something specific; everything has properties that make it what it is; everything has a nature—water is water; a trout is a trout; a gain is a gain; a right is a right; a theocracy is a theocracy; and so on. This is the law of identity: A thing is what it is.
We can also see that a thing can act only in accordance with its identity. Water can flow; it cannot turn into wine. A trout can nourish a few men; it cannot nourish thousands. A theocracy can destroy human life; it cannot promote it. And so on. This is the law of causality, which is the law of identity applied to action: A thing cannot act in contradiction to its nature.
This is Rand’s basic view of the nature of reality: There is a reality; there is only one reality; it is the given; everything in it has a nature and can act only in accordance with its nature. This, according to Objectivism, is the foundation to which our thinking must adhere if it is to be correct and the foundation in which we must ground our policies and practices if they are to be legitimate.
Religion, in contrast, holds that there are two realities: the reality we perceive or the natural world; and a higher, more-important but unperceivable reality—the “supernatural” world or the realm of “God.” In this view, the higher, unperceivable reality creates and rules the lower, perceivable one; and things in the lower reality can act in contradiction to what they are—if God wills it. So, for instance, water can turn into wine, if God wills it; a trout can nourish thousands of people, if God wills it; a theocracy can promote human life, if God wills it. In short, anything can do anything, if God wills it.
This is the basic religious view of reality: There are two realms, nature and “supernature”—the perceivable world and “God”—and things in the natural world can and must act in accordance with the will of God. This, according to religion, is the foundation to which our thinking must adhere and in which we must ground our policies and practices.
Whereas religion adds a world to the one we perceive, subjectivism subtracts one. According to subjectivism, there is no reality; there is only personal opinion or social convention. Personal subjectivism reveres the first; social subjectivism reveres the second. (Because personal subjectivism is not a cultural force, our main concern here will be social subjectivism.)
According to subjectivism, there is nothing independent of or apart from man’s consciousness; rather, man’s consciousness creates what we call “reality.” As the renowned subjectivist Richard Rorty put it, “the idea . . . of an antecedently existing reality . . . the idea that there [is] a reality ‘out there’ with an intrinsic nature to be respected and corresponded to [is] not a manifestation of sound common sense.”1 Thus: “Nothing grounds our practices, nothing legitimizes them, nothing shows them to be in touch with the way things are”;2 nothing “has authority over human beings.”3 Consequently: “There’s no court of appeal higher than a democratic consensus.”4
In this view, things are whatever society says they are, and they act however society says they act. If society says that paper is money, then paper is money. If society says we can create wealth by printing money, then we can. If society says Islam is a religion of peace, then it is. If society says men can produce while wearing regulatory shackles, then they can. If society says government can create jobs, then it can. And so on.
This is the basic (social) subjectivist view of reality: There is no reality; there is only social convention or democratic consensus; and this is the “foundation” to which our thinking must adhere and in which we must ground our policies and practices.
Why do these views of reality matter with respect to liberty?
They matter because if we see that there is one reality, and if we acknowledge that we all have access to it via our senses, then we can keep our thinking tied to that reality; we can derive our policies and practices from that reality; and we can embrace policies and practices that serve our needs in reality.
For instance, if we see that certain facts of reality give rise to the need of a principle specifying that in order to live and prosper each individual must be left free to act on his own judgment and must leave others free to act on theirs, then we can know that policies and practices that recognize and uphold this principle are based on and carry the authority of an absolute reality.
If, however, we suppose there are two realities—the one we perceive and another more important one we can’t perceive—then we have no solid or common ground in which to base our thinking, policies, or practices. Adhering to a “reality” we can’t perceive means adhering to whatever we—or some alleged “authorities”—arbitrarily say corresponds to the unperceivable “reality.”
This is why religionists of all kinds throughout history have been at war with one another, slaughtering each other over their different beliefs about the more important yet unperceivable reality. And this is why religionists today seek to convert or kill infidels; to “correct” or kill homosexuals; to subjugate women; and to prohibit people from using drugs, or researching stem cells, or criticizing religion, or doing countless other things that people want or need to do.
Likewise, if we pretend that there is no reality and thus that nothing grounds our thinking or legitimizes our policies or practices, then we cannot plausibly claim that individuals have rights, or that liberty is good, or that property is owned, or that the pursuit of happiness is proper, or that individuals own their lives. This is why, on the premise of subjectivism, as Rorty puts it:
[W]hen the secret police come, when the torturers violate the innocent, there is nothing to be said to them of the form “There is something within you which you are betraying. Though you embody the practices of a totalitarian society which will endure forever, there is something beyond those practices which condemns you.”5
And this is why leftist ideologies—ideologies based on the idea that the collective will dictates “truth”—have tortured and slaughtered hundreds of millions of people, and counting.
If we care about liberty, views on the nature of reality matter.
Man’s Means of Knowledge
Objectivism holds that man gains knowledge by means of reason; he grasps truth by observing reality and integrating what he perceives into concepts, generalizations, and principles. For instance, he perceives reality and sees dogs, cats, birds, and death; he integrates his perceptions into concepts, such as “dog,” “animal,” and “mortal”; he integrates his concepts into generalizations, such as “dogs require food” and “animals are mortal”; he forms principles, such as “animals, including man, must take certain actions in order to remain alive,” and “man requires freedom in order to live and prosper.” Knowledge, according to Objectivism, is gained by a process of reason: observing reality and making mental integrations on the basis of perceptual observations.
Religion, in contrast, holds that man gains some knowledge by looking at reality, but that he gains the most important knowledge—such as knowledge of right and wrong—by turning to God.
According to religion, knowledge of morality, virtue, rights, and the like comes not from observation and logic but from revelation and faith. Revelation is “just knowing” some “truth” because “God” implanted the knowledge in one’s mind. Faith is acceptance of ideas that are unsupported by or contrary to evidence.
It is on the basis of revelation and faith that people accept ideas such as that a bush spoke; that a virgin gave birth; that a man arose from his grave three days after he died; that the earth is only six thousand years old; that homosexuality is evil and deserving of death; that when someone strikes you, you should turn the other cheek; that you are your brother’s keeper; that it is permissible and even ideal for a grown man to marry a six-year-old; and that if someone draws a picture of a prophet or in any way offends “God,” he should be killed. There is no evidence in support of such ideas; and many of them patently contradict observable facts; nevertheless, religious people accept them as true.
Subjectivism holds that knowledge of reality is impossible, for the simple fact that there is no reality. The best we can do, according to subjectivism, is to know what we feel and, more importantly, what the democratic consensus says is “true.” In this view, if the consensus is that a bush spoke, or that a dead man arose from his grave, or that “climate change” warrants regulation, or that industrial progress is evil, then the proposition in question is “true”—or as close as we can get to that notion.
Why do these views of knowledge matter for liberty one way or the other?
If man gains knowledge by means of reason—by looking at reality and using logic—then people can figure out what is true and what is not, what corresponds to reality and what doesn’t; thus they can form policies and practices in accordance with reality. For instance, if we look at the world, apply logic, and conclude that man’s basic means of living is the judgment of his mind—and that in order for him to act on his judgment he must be free from physical force—then we can codify such knowledge into principles and policies that enable men to live and prosper.
If, however, important knowledge comes from revelation or faith, then we cannot form or uphold principles such as “the individual has a right to act on his judgment.” If a person’s chosen actions conflict with what others “just know” via faith to be impermissible, then, on the premise that faith is a means of knowledge, he cannot have a right to act on his judgment. If no evidence need be presented in support of an idea’s “truth,” if ideas can be true because one has faith that they are true, then any principle can be validated or invalidated at any time by means of anyone’s act of faith. If a religionist has faith that infidels must be killed, or that pornography must be banned, or that men may beat their wives, or that U.S. diplomats should be sodomized and murdered, or that entitlement programs are morally mandatory, then no amount of evidence to the contrary is going to change his mind. Faith is, by definition, impervious to evidence.
Similarly, if, as subjectivism holds, knowledge of reality is a myth, if the best we can do is go by personal feelings or social consensus, then, in any disagreement between an individual and a group, or between a minority and majority, the group or majority will be viewed as in the right. So, for instance, if society dictates that all men should be farmers and thus that everyone should leave the cities, move to the country, and engage in agriculture—as the “Democratic Kampuchea” society of Cambodia dictated in the 1970s—then that is what everyone should do. If society further dictates that anyone who resists should be shot on the spot, then this is what should happen. If someone dares to point out that observation and logic dictate that this will lead to mass starvation, his claim, on the premise of social subjectivism, is ridiculous. The consensus has spoken. The result of this particular consensus was the starvation and slaughter of more than 1.4 million men, women, and children.
Views of knowledge matter to liberty.
The Nature of Morality
Here, we’ll consider each philosophy with respect to its standard of moral value, its view of the proper beneficiary of values, and its view of moral virtue.
The Standard of Moral Value
Objectivism holds that the standard of moral value is the requirements of man’s life on earth. Rand arrived at this principle by asking and answering the questions: What are values? Why does man need them? Looking at reality, she saw that values are the things we act to gain or keep—things such as food, medical care, good grades, a fulfilling career, friendships, romance, and freedom—and that the ultimate reason we need to pursue values is in order to live and prosper. 6
On the principle that the standard of moral value is the requirements of human life, values such as reason, knowledge, productive work, trade, liberty, and the like are good because they sustain and further human life. Conversely, faith, ignorance, parasitism, theft, tyranny, and the like are bad because they throttle or destroy human life.
Religion, in contrast, holds that the standard of moral value is God’s will. If God wills that it is good to have faith in him and to obey his commands, then it is. On the premises of religion, all moral principles follow from this one. As Bishop Robert C. Mortimer explains:
When a man’s conscience tells him that a thing is right, which is in fact what God wills, his conscience is true and its judgment correct; when a man’s conscience tells him a thing is right which is, in fact, contrary to God’s will, his conscience is false and telling him a lie.7
Thus, if God tells a man that he should sacrifice his son as a burnt offering (as God told Abraham in the Bible), then that is what the man should do. If God later tells the man to spare the boy (as the story goes), then that is what the man should do. Likewise, if God tells people that they should kill infidels, or love their neighbors, or kill their enemies, or love their enemies, or sell all that they have and give the proceeds to the poor, or whatever, then that is what people should do. And if his commandments contradict each other, that is okay because he is God.
Social subjectivism holds that the standard of moral value is social consensus. If a group of people or a society forms a consensus to the effect that slavery is permissible, or genital mutilation is good, or homosexuality should be forbidden, or everyone should be a farmer, or banks must be regulated—then, for that society, the policy is good. If the consensus says otherwise, then that is good. The consensus is by definition right.
Views of the standard of moral value clearly matter to the cause of liberty.
The Proper Beneficiary of Values
Objectivism holds that the proper beneficiary of values is the individual who acts for and earns the values in question. If you earn a paycheck, the paycheck is properly yours to keep and use as you see fit. If you build a business, the business is properly yours to keep and run as you see fit. If you write a book or invent a gadget or paint a portrait, then that book, gadget, or portrait is properly yours to keep, use, sell, or dispose of as you see fit.
Religion, in contrast, holds that the proper beneficiary of an action is whoever “God” says it is. And, because God is unperceivable (because nonexistent), this means that the proper beneficiary is whoever religious scripture or God’s earthly authorities say it is.
So, for instance, if scripture, clergy, rabbis, or mullahs say, as they often do, that those who did not produce values are nevertheless the proper beneficiaries of the values, then they are. If God says, as he does in the Old Testament, “I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land,” then the poor and the needy are the proper beneficiaries of your wealth. If Jesus says, as he does in the New Testament, “Sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor,” then the proper beneficiaries of your goods are the poor who didn’t earn them. If, as St. Gregory says in his Pastoral Rule, “when we administer necessaries of any kind to the indigent, we do not bestow our own, but render them what is theirs,”8 then the proper beneficiaries of the goods and services we produce are not ourselves but the indigent who need them.
Subjectivism, of course, holds that the proper beneficiary of values is whoever a democratic consensus says it is. Thus, whatever values one has, however one gained them, and however important they are to one’s life and happiness, society nevertheless gets to dictate who will have them. If society says, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” then, on the premise of subjectivism, that is the proper policy regarding the proper beneficiary of values.
Clearly, views about the proper beneficiary of values matter to the cause of liberty.
Objectivism holds that morality “is a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions—the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life.”9 Rand emphasizes that “the purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.”10 Accordingly, Rand’s philosophy holds that being moral consists in pursuing the values on which one’s life and happiness depend, and in refusing ever to commit a sacrifice—refusing ever to surrender a greater value for the sake of a lesser value.
For instance, if you want to build a business manufacturing dollhouses and thus need to save all your hard-earned money so that you can invest it in this goal, then, according to Objectivism, you should do that. If a friend asks you to lend him money so that he can open a bakery, and if, in your judgment, lending him money would mean surrendering a value that is more important to your life (your business) for the sake of a value that is less important to your life (his business), then Objectivism says you should not lend him the money. If, however, you have enough money to non-sacrificially do both, you care for your friend, you have a reasonable expectation that his business will succeed, and you want to help him in this manner, then, according to Objectivism, you should lend him money.
Likewise, if you lecture for a living and normally charge a fee for delivering a speech, but you want to deliver a speech to a particular group that cannot afford to pay your fee, say, a group of struggling artists or students, then, according to Objectivism, so long as delivering the speech does not preclude you from doing something more important to your life with that time, and so long as you expect to receive sufficient spiritual value from the engagement, delivering the speech free of charge is perfectly selfish, non-sacrificial, and thus moral.
Objectivism holds that pursuing your life-serving values is moral because doing so promotes your life. It holds that surrendering greater values for the sake of lesser values is immoral because doing so throttles your life. And it holds that helping people can be moral or immoral, depending on whether, all things considered, doing so adds value to or subtracts value from your life.
This is the essence of the Objectivist view of self-interest, self-sacrifice, and the propriety of helping others: Always act in a manner that promotes your life—whether materially or spiritually or both. This principle applies not only to career, but also to romance, friendships, recreational activities, charity, and every aspect of life where choice applies. The goal is to fill your days and years with the values that will enable you to achieve a lifetime of happiness. This is what Rand means by her famous “virtue of selfishness”: the commitment to acting consistently in a manner that will promote your life and fill it with joy.
Objectivism holds that moral virtues are principled actions in service of this all-encompassing goal. These include, most fundamentally: rationality—“the recognition and acceptance of reason as one’s only source of knowledge, one’s only judge of values and one’s only guide to action”;11 productiveness—acceptance of the responsibility of producing goods or services in support of one’s life; justice—the commitment to judging people rationally, according to the relevant facts, and treating them accordingly, as they deserve to be treated;12 independence—“acceptance of the responsibility of forming one’s own judgments and of living by the work of one’s own mind.”13 There is much more to Rand’s view of virtue, but this is the essence of it.14
Religion, in contrast, holds that the purpose of morality is to honor or please “God.” Accordingly, its basic moral virtues are faith in God and obedience to his commandments. Again, because God is unperceivable, this ultimately means acceptance of and obedience to the dictates of those who claim to speak for him, whether in scripture or from the pulpit or on the Internet or TV. On the premise of religion, if God, through his spokesman, says you should love your enemies, or slay the unbelievers, or murder your child, or love your neighbor, or marry a six-year-old, or give to the poor, then that is what you should do.
Subjectivism holds that the purpose of morality is to ensure that people adhere to the dictates of the democratic consensus. Moral virtue, in this view, is whatever the consensus says it is. If the majority says that Socrates must drink hemlock, or that Jews must go to gas chambers, or that everyone must purchase health insurance, or that a tax is not a tax, or that we must reduce our “carbon footprint,” or whatever, then, on the premise of subjectivism, that is what “morally” must be done.
Views on moral virtue clearly matter to the cause of liberty.
To sum up our brief survey of the moral tenets of these three philosophies: Objectivism holds that being moral consists in thinking rationally and pursuing one’s life-serving values. Religion holds that being moral consists in having faith in “God” and obeying his commandments, whatever they may be. And (social) subjectivism holds that being moral consists in doing whatever the collective says you should do.
What are the implications of the foregoing ideas with respect to rights?
The Nature of Rights
Objectivism holds that rights are logical implications of the virtue of selfishness. If people morally should act in accordance with their own best judgment and are the proper beneficiaries of their own productive actions, then it follows that they morally must be free to do so. The principle of rights is the idea that each individual should be free to act on his judgment and to keep and use the product of his efforts, so long as he does not violate the same rights of others.
Rand saw rights as recognitions of the factual requirements of human life in a social context. She observed that in order to live and prosper, a human being must be free to act on his basic means of living and prospering: the judgment of his mind. She further saw that the only thing that can stop a person from acting on his judgment is physical force. These facts (among others), Rand realized, give rise to the need of a principle prohibiting people from initiating force against other people. That principle is the principle of rights, which holds that no one may initiate the use of physical force (including indirect force, such as fraud) against anyone.
Religion, in contrast, holds that rights, insofar as there are such things, are gifts from “God” and are thus subject (as is everything) to his commands. Again, because God is unperceivable, rights in this view are whatever God’s earthly representatives say they are. If scripture says or implies that it is right for grown men to marry six-year-olds, then men have a right to do so. If scripture says or implies that homosexuals have no right to live, then they have no right to live. If scripture says or implies that people who did not produce values are nevertheless the rightful owners of the values in question, then they are the rightful owners. If God’s representatives say that contraception, or stem cell research, or in vitro fertilization, or interracial marriage, or the like is against God’s will, then people have no right to engage in the activity in question.
Social subjectivism holds that there is no such thing as rights, because there is only social convention. In this view, what we call a “right” is just a permission granted by society via democratic consensus. If society says that citizens have a right to a particular action or good—whether liberty, or education, or freedom of speech, or health care, or a house—then citizens have a “right” to that action or good. If and when the consensus changes, people’s “rights” change with it.
Needless to say, views of rights have direct significance in the cause of liberty.
The Proper Purpose of Government
In concert with its view of individual rights, the evil of force, and the necessity of selfish action, Objectivism holds that the proper purpose of government is to protect rights by barring force so that people can act on their judgment, live, and prosper. In this view, government is justified in doing one thing and one thing only: protecting the rights of all individuals by banning force from social relations and by using force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate (or threaten) force.
According to Objectivism, government properly passes and enforces laws against murder, rape, burglary, assault, fraud, extortion, defamation, and the like because all such actions involve initiatory force (whether direct or indirect) against people. Conversely, government properly refrains from regulating the economy, redistributing wealth, censoring speech, and in any other way initiating force against people because to initiate force against people is to violate their rights.
The political result of widespread acceptance of Objectivism would be a fully free society—a society in which everyone is fully free to act in accordance with his own judgment for his own sake; a society in which no one, including the government, may initiate force against anyone; a society in which everyone is able to live fully as a human being: by the judgment of his own mind.
Religion, in contrast, holds that the proper purpose of government is to ensure that people obey the will of “God.” According to religion, insofar as people have rights, they have them because God granted them. God’s will, not the requirements of human life in a social context, is the political absolute. Again, because God is unperceivable, this standard defaults to religious scripture or to God’s other alleged earthly representatives: clergy, priests, rabbis, mullahs, popes, witch doctors.
Government, in this view, is to enforce divine commandments, and, because these commandments must be taken on faith, people and cultures inherently and endlessly disagree as to what God’s commandments are and how they should be enforced. Medieval Christians, for instance, had faith that they should take scripture seriously, live by its laws, and punish transgressions as the Bible demands. This led to governments burning “heretics” at the stake, slaughtering whole cities full of unbelievers, and engaging in countless other atrocities. Many modern-day Muslims continue to take scripture seriously and thus engage in similar atrocities, as we see increasingly in the news.
Religionists in America today typically have faith that God’s commandments should be followed but not to a T; thus they advocate that government enforce only some of God’s commandments, not all of them. For instance, they call for outlawing pornography, outlawing homosexuality, outlawing abortion, outlawing certain kinds of scientific research, outlawing certain drugs, forcibly redistributing wealth, and the like; but they refrain from calling for death to unbelievers or homosexuals or abortion doctors—at least for now.
Subjectivism holds that the purpose of government is to enforce the democratic consensus. For instance, if the consensus is that individuals have rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that these rights are to be protected by the government, then that is what the government should do. If, however, the consensus is that people have rights to health care, homes, education, and the like—which is, of course, the consensus—then the proper purpose of government is to force the producers and providers of these goods and services to produce and provide them for those who need them.
Views of the proper purpose of government clearly matter to liberty.
* * *
In our brief analysis of these three philosophies, we can see that philosophy matters to liberty. We can also see that only one of these philosophies undergirds a free society. Only one supports the American ideal. Only one can enable America to “come back” to liberty.
If Americans want America to make a comeback, then we need a philosophy that anchors the American ideal in moral absolutes and perceptual reality. This is what Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism does.
Rand’s philosophy sounds reasonable because it is reasonable; it is based on facts you can see and understand, and it consists of principles you can grasp and apply to real, everyday problems and pursuits in life. Objectivism sounds civil because it is civil; it calls for a society in which physical force is banned from social relations so that people can live and prosper. Rand’s philosophy sounds American because it is American; it is the only philosophy that undergirds the American ideal of individual rights.
Ayn Rand is America’s comeback philosopher, and Objectivism is America’s comeback philosophy. If you love liberty, let it be known.15
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* This sentence originally read: “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.”
1 Richard Rorty, Achieving our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), p. 29. Rorty is here interpreting John Dewey and doing so favorably.2 “From Logic to Language to Play,” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 59 (1986): pp. 747–53. 3 Rorty, Achieving our Country, p. 27. Rorty is here interpreting Walt Whitman and doing so favorably. 4 Richard Rorty, “The Next Left,” interview by Scott Stossel, Atlantic Unbound, April 23, 1998. 5 Richard Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982), p. xlii. 6 Rand’s induction of this principle involves several steps; for details see Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” in The Virtue of Selfishness (New York: Signet, 1962); or Craig Biddle, Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It (Richmond: Glen Allen Press, 2002). 7 Robert C. Mortimer, Christian Ethics (London: Hutchinson’s University Library, 1950), p. 8. 8 “St. Gregory’s Pastoral Rule [chapter XXI]” in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church; Socrates, Sozomenus Church Histories (1890), edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. 9 Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” p. 13. 10 Ayn Rand, For the New Intellectual, (New York: Signet, 1963), p. 123. 11 Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” pp. 27–28. 12 Cf. Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (New York: Meridian, 1993), p. 276. 13 Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” p. 28. 14 For a detailed overview of the Objectivist virtues, see Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics”; or Biddle, Loving Life, chapter 6, “Objective Moral Virtues: Principled Actions.” 15 To learn more about America’s Comeback Philosophy, read Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged and her nonfiction books The Virtue of Selfishness, Philosophy: Who Needs It, and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.