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Jason Brennan Joins the Brigade of People Misrepresenting Ayn Rand’s Views

This essay is part of a compilation ebook, Objectivism, available at Amazon.com or free with any subscription to TOS.

Every so often, people hostile to Ayn Rand’s ideas try to attack them by saying that Rand said or implied something she never said or implied and then attacking what she never said or implied. Consider some examples.

In an article for the New Criterion, Anthony Daniels (aka Theodore Dalrymple) claims (among other things) that Rand rejected compassion and held that “it is right for human beings to be utterly callous and indifferent to the fate of the unfortunate.” Daniels does not quote Rand saying this (or any of the other things he says she said); and the reason is, as Alan Germani observes in his response to that article, “Rand never said or implied any such thing”; rather, she explicitly clarified when she regarded compassion as appropriate and when not:

I regard compassion as proper only toward those who are innocent victims, but not toward those who are morally guilty. If one feels compassion for the victims of a concentration camp, one cannot feel it for the torturers. If one does feel compassion for the torturers, it is an act of moral treason toward the victims.

In an opinion piece for the Christian Science Monitor, Vladimir Shlapentokh similarly attempts to discredit Rand’s ideas by claiming she held views that are, in fact, completely contrary to her actual views. For example, he claims that “Rand was fully indifferent to the workers in her novels, whom she described as primitive beings—‘savages’ in the words of Atlas’s steel mogul Hank Rearden.” But Rand never described workers as primitive beings or savages or anything of the sort. Shlapentokh’s claim is false, which is why he did not and cannot provide a citation to support it. Far from being indifferent to workers, Rand regarded productive work “in any line of rational endeavor, great or modest, on any level of ability” as a virtue. Anyone who reads Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead or any of Rand’s other works will see her reverence for producers of all kinds concretized and emphasized in myriad ways.

Given that Rand’s actual views are so readily available, it’s baffling that her detractors wantonly make up this stuff. Yet they do. (For more examples of people saying that Rand said or implied things she never said or implied, see here, here, and here.)

A recent instance can be found in a blog post by Jason Brennan of Bleeding Heart Libertarians, in which Brennan claims (among other things) that Rand and Objectivists are, according to the implications of ethical egoism, “committed to the view that you should rape, dismember, and murder others when it serves your interests.” Of course, Brennan does not and cannot quote Rand saying or implying this or anything of the sort. Nor does he or can he get around the fact that the implications of Rand’s ethics are precisely the opposite of what he claims them to be—as Rand herself made clear. Consider a few passages from Rand:

In “The Nature of Government,” Rand wrote:

The precondition of a civilized society is the barring of physical force from social relationships—thus establishing the principle that if men wish to deal with one another, they may do so only by means of reason: by discussion, persuasion and voluntary, uncoerced agreement.

In her introduction to The Virtue of Selfishness, Rand wrote:

The Objectivist ethics holds that the actor must always be the beneficiary of his action and that man must act for his own rational self-interest. But his right to do so is derived from his nature as man and from the function of moral values in human life—and, therefore, is applicable only in the context of a rational, objectively demonstrated and validated code of moral principles which define and determine his actual self-interest. It is not a license “to do as he pleases” and it is not applicable to the altruists’ image of a “selfish” brute nor to any man motivated by irrational emotions, feelings, urges, wishes or whims.

This is said as a warning against the kind of “Nietzschean egoists” who, in fact, are a product of the altruist morality and represent the other side of the altruist coin: the men who believe that any action, regardless of its nature, is good if it is intended for one’s own benefit. Just as the satisfaction of the irrational desires of others is not a criterion of moral value, neither is the satisfaction of one’s own irrational desires. Morality is not a contest of whims. . . .

A similar type of error is committed by the man who declares that since man must be guided by his own independent judgment, any action he chooses to take is moral if he chooses it. One’s own independent judgment is the means by which one must choose one’s actions, but it is not a moral criterion nor a moral validation: only reference to a demonstrable principle can validate one’s choices.

Just as man cannot survive by any random means, but must discover and practice the principles which his survival requires, so man’s self-interest cannot be determined by blind desires or random whims, but must be discovered and achieved by the guidance of rational principles. This is why the Objectivist ethics is a morality of rational self-interest—or of rational selfishness.

In “The Objectivist Ethics,” Rand wrote:

The Objectivist ethics holds that human good does not require human sacrifices and cannot be achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone. It holds that the rational interests of men do not clash—that there is no conflict of interests among men who do not desire the unearned, who do not make sacrifices nor accept them, who deal with one another as traders, giving value for value.

In “The Wreckage of the Consensus,” Rand wrote:

The only “obligation” involved in individual rights is an obligation imposed, not by the state, but by the nature of reality (i.e., by the law of identity): consistency, which, in this case, means the obligation to respect the rights of others, if one wishes one’s own rights to be recognized and protected.

And in “Textbook of Americanism,” Rand wrote:

Since Man has inalienable individual rights, this means that the same rights are held, individually, by every man, by all men, at all times. Therefore, the rights of one man cannot and must not violate the rights of another.

For instance: a man has the right to live, but he has no right to take the life of another. He has the right to be free, but no right to enslave another. He has the right to choose his own happiness, but no right to decide that his happiness lies in the misery (or murder or robbery or enslavement) of another. The very right upon which he acts defines the same right of another man, and serves as a guide to tell him what he may or may not do.

Those are just a few examples of Rand’s countless clarifications on this matter. Needless to say, she was neither explicitly nor implicitly “committed to the view that you should rape, dismember, and murder others when it serves your interests.” In light of such readily available facts, Brennan’s claim is patently absurd.

Those who misrepresent Ayn Rand’s views would do well to find a different pastime, as this one is just making them look foolish if not dishonest.

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