Yet another academic has defamed Ayn Rand, and yet more publications have featured the defamation. Smears of Rand are commonplace these days in popular, leftist, and conservative publications; for examples, see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, or here. The latest smear, by Boston College professor Alan Wolfe, is one of the most outrageous.
Reuters published Wolfe’s piece under the title, “Why Libertarianism Is Closer to Stalinism than You Think”; Business World published it under “What Do Libertarians and Stalin have in Common? Plenty.” Wolfe absurdly claims that libertarianism is based on the ideas of Ayn Rand and that Rand’s ideas are akin to those of Stalin. It would be as apt to call George Washington a monarch, Abraham Lincoln a slaver, or Steve Jobs a Luddite—and obviously no serious periodical would publish any such claim about those figures.
It would be impossible for Wolfe not to know that Ayn Rand escaped Soviet Russia, immigrated to America, and spent her career writing novels and essays against the collectivism, mysticism, and sacrificial ethics on which Soviet Communism and related ideologies were built. Rand’s first novel, We the Living, amounts to a scathing rebuke of Communism and the Soviet terror. Her novel The Fountainhead glorifies independence and independent thinking, values that fundamentally clash with Stalin’s collectivism. Her novel Atlas Shrugged promotes (among more fundamental values) laissez-faire capitalism, the opposite of Stalin’s socialism.
Yet Wolfe writes:
Libertarianism[’s] . . . leading 20th-century theorist was the novelist Ayn Rand, who, for all her talk of freedom, was an authoritarian at heart. She was intolerant of dissent and conspiratorial to a fault. Libertarians elected to public office on the basis of her ideas, including former Republican Representative Ron Paul, Rand Paul’s father, have adhered to such radical positions as abolishing the Federal Reserve. . . .
Libertarianism in that sense is not merely an economic doctrine or a political worldview. It proposed, as Ayn Rand realized, a secular substitute for religion, complete with its own conception of the city of God, a utopia of pure laissez-faire and the city of man, a place where envy and short-sightedness hinder creative geniuses from carrying out their visions. If there was anything its founders hated more than governmental authority, it was religious authority.
Such a religious-like ideal requires careful scrutiny to ensure that no one breaks the rules or, in religious terms, commits a sin. Individuals are free to act in their self-interest—indeed, are required to—but if they grow lazy or are swayed by emotions or altruism, society’s best achievements will come crashing down around them.
Let’s consider the possible meanings of these assertions, starting with Wolfe’s claims about Rand’s behavior.
If “conspiratorial” means prone to believing false conspiracy theories, that doesn’t describe Rand, which is why Wolfe can’t provide a single example to support the claim. If “intolerant of dissent” means critical of irrational ideas and irrational people and refusal to associate with them, then, yes, Rand was intolerant of dissent. If it means refusal to consider other people’s reasonable ideas or refusal to associate with people who didn’t agree with Rand on everything, then the claim is absurd, which, again, is why Wolfe cannot support it with evidence.
Remarkably, however, Wolfe means something much more outrageous. He means to say that exercising one’s rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association, as Rand did, is somehow akin to slaughtering scores of millions of people, as Stalin did. (One wonders if Wolfe “teaches” such nonsense to his college students.)
Wolfe’s remark about the Federal Reserve is bizarre. The Federal Reserve—a centralized government monopoly that issues fiat currency—obviously is an “authoritarian” system, controlled by the politically appointed Federal Reserve Board. Yet apparently Wolfe wishes his readers to believe that Rand’s opposition to such an authoritarian system somehow illustrates that she is “authoritarian at heart.” Although such newspeak is in vogue today, it is nevertheless the epitome of nonsense. (For a case why the Federal Reserve should be replaced with a free market in banking, see Richard Salsman’s “The End of Central Banking,” Part I and Part II.)
Wolfe’s claims that Rand was a libertarian, and that Ron Paul or Rand Paul somehow share her ideology, also are nonsense. Although Rand and many libertarians happen to agree on various economic and political matters, Rand was not a libertarian, and she explicitly denounced libertarianism. Among the relevant differences: Rand opposed anarchy, which many libertarians embrace; she opposed egalitarianism, which some modern libertarians embrace; she advocated intellectual property rights, which many modern libertarians reject; and she advocated a strong national defense for the purpose of protecting the rights and lives of Americans, which many libertarians oppose. Rand also opposed religion and especially its application in politics, which both Ron and Rand Paul embrace (e.g., Rand championed the right to seek an abortion, whereas Rand Paul wishes to outlaw abortion on religious grounds).
Finally, Wolfe’s claims that Rand advocated a “religious-like utopia” are absurd. Rand advocated reason rooted in perceptual evidence and opposed all forms of religion and mysticism—including the collectivist mysticism at the root of Hegelianism and Marxism. She advocated, not utopia, but a rights-respecting, constitutional government in the tradition of John Locke and America’s founders. As a work of fiction, Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is a highly stylized story about a society in which mysticism, collectivism, and the ethos of sacrifice are so prevalent that they tear apart the fabric of civilized society. However, neither in Rand’s novel, nor in the political system Rand advocates, is there any room for any inquisitor who, after “careful scrutiny,” forcibly punishes individuals’ non-rights violating moral breaches. The only breaches Rand regarded as properly punishable by government or law are those that violate individual rights, such as assault, theft, and murder.
In short, Wolfe’s fanciful portrait of an “authoritarian” Ayn Rand crumbles to dust with the slightest breath of evidence. Yet, somehow, that fact did not stop Wolfe from writing his smear job, nor did it stop two seemingly reputable publications from carrying it. Thankfully, Rand’s ideas are as clear as can be in her own works, and anyone who reads them and is willing to think can see that she advocated rational self-interest, independent thinking, individual rights, and a government that is strictly limited to the protection of rights.