Le Monde Diplomatique Discovers Ayn Rand
Dr. Judith Apter Klinghoffer taught history and International relations at Rowan University, Rutgers University, the Foreign Affairs College in Beijing as well as at Aarhus University in Denmark where she was a senior Fulbright professor. She is an affiliate professor at Haifa University. Her books include Israel and the Soviet Union, Vietnam, Jews and the Middle East: Unintended Consequences and , International Citizens' Tribunals: Mobilizing Public Opinion to Advance Human Rights.
It may no longer be surprising to read references to Ayn Rand in the Anglo-American press, but to find an article about the much dismissed author in the primary leftist French foreign policy outlet is rather astounding. It means that as far as the left is concerned, Rand can no longer be ignored. Indeed, as far as the left is concerned this is the perfect time to confront her. After all, doesn't the recent market collapse demonstrate that her belief in Capitalism is plain wrong? Moreover, don't Madoff and company illustrate that her trust in the morality of businessmen is similarly fallacious? Even her protege, Alan Greenspan, admitted as much.
The article begins with an anecdote from the latter's autobiography:
Alan Greenspan recounts in his memoir The Age of Turbulence (1) how “mind-boggling” he found it to be approached after an International Monetary Fund meeting in 2004 by Andrei Illarionov, Vladimir Putin’s economic adviser, with the question: “Next time you are in Moscow, would you be willing to meet with me and some of my friends to discuss Ayn Rand?”
Perhaps, it is this incident that led François Flahault to include her in his book Le crépuscule de Prométhée : Contribution à une histoire de la démesure humaine from which this article is extracted. English speakers can be dismissed but when their ideas are taken up by Putin and company, they must be confronted. It should not be forgotten that Ayn Rand was Russian, that Russians are most familiar with the reality of post revolutionary Russia Ayn first experienced then described in "We the Living" (in which she does deal with familial relations Flahault argues she avoids) and that their shared experience forms the basis of her virulent rejection of any state interference in economic affairs.
Flahault ignores"We the Living" focusing, instead, on the better known The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957). He writes:"Like Nietzsche, Rand thought it is great men who justify humanity’s existence. The artist is the master of his work; his refusal to conform to society’s demands gives society its greatest benefit."
Actually, Rand does not argue that great men justify Humanity's existence. She does not feel any need to justify humanity's existence any more than there is a need to justify any other kind of existence. She does argue that the artist is the sole owner of his work but so is every other person. She does not believe that one human being has a right to appropriate the fruit of the labor of another human being regardless of the use the appropriator (she aptly calls looter) intends to make of it. In other words, she objects to the taking of private property in the name of the greater good, be the property intellectual or material. She accurately predicted, what Communist regimes eventually proved, that general poverty, not prosperity is the outcome of the confiscation of private property. Hence, her opposition to the income tax.
She does argue that the fruits of creative/inventive individuals working for self expression often end up benefiting a large number of people. But benefiting people is not their primary motivation, merely a side effect. Hence, people need not feel beholden to them. Each person according to his/her ability. Of course, it is only a truth universally known that the ability of some is far greater than that of others. Flahaul quotes Rand hero, Howard Roark:
The creator served nothing and no one. He had lived for himself. And only by living for himself was he able to achieve the things which are the glory of mankind. Such is the nature of achievement. … The work of the creator has eliminated one form of disease after another, in man’s body and spirit, and brought more relief from suffering than any altruist could ever conceive. … The man who attempts to live for others is a dependent. He is a parasite in motive and makes parasites of those he serves. … The creator’s concern is the conquest of nature. The parasite’s concern is the conquest of men. The creator lives for his work. He needs no other men. His primary goal is within himself. The parasite lives second-hand. He needs others.
Flahaul sees the advocacy of such proud individualism as naive because it does not take into account the realities of power:
Ayn Rand defends an ethic which is remarkable for its absence of any obligation towards others, only towards oneself. As if by magic, this spirits away multiple forms of interdependence, power relations, and abuses of power, and the violence and injustices which poison human existence and against which in real life the appeal to reason is ineffective.
But is it really? The Financial channels were all a buzz with news that Steve Jobs is once again leaving Apple. Last time he did the company went down hill. They are those who argue that this time is going to be different. This time Apple will do just as well without him. Investors know better. He is a typical Ayn Rand hero, a man who works for his own sake. Does that mean he does not benefit others?
Moreover, as Nicholas Kristof dares to point out people who work in development know that those much maligned sweat shop owners provide the poorest of the poor with the greatest opportunity for a better life. The same cannot be said about foreign aid or international agencies such as the IMF, the World Bank or UNRWA. Those merely coddle dictators and enable terrorists ( U.N. Agency That Runs School Hit in Gaza Employed Hamas and Islamic Jihad Members ). After all, they are the best producers of the commodity altruists seek most, misery. You wish to see the results of the toil of greedy sweatshop factory owners? Go to China where hundreds of millions have been lifted from poverty. You wish to see the result of the toil of NGOs and International institutions? Go to Gaza where over 80% of the people depend on foreign aid.
Why? Because, as Ayn Rand understood, to do good they need to be needed. The greater the misery, the more important they are. One of the most touching scenes in Atlas Shrugged is the one in which a social worker realizes the parasitic logic of her relationship with her clients. For clear sighted honest observers the post Rwanda holocaust refugee crisis provided a similar moment of truth:
From the point of view of aid workers trying to cope with the needs of refugees, the journalists were in many ways a nuisance. They added to the chaos of clogged roads. They inflated the cost of hiring a car or an interpreter. Nurses resuscitating children with cholera found themselves tripping over tripods and cameramen looking for a better angle.
But aid agency press officers – ever mindful of the hot competition for funds back home – pursued journalists, proffering not only updates and interviews, but free transport and accommodation in return for covering their agency's programme. The aid agencies needed the journalists, and the journalists needed the aid agencies.
I can almost hear Rand say: told you so. Rand rejects the notion that individuals have obligations towards others. Yet, her characters are inherently generous. How come? They act out of compassion and empathy instead of guilt. Nor are they power hungry. Rand's heroes are men like Vincent Van Gogh, Albert Einstein or Bill Gates, not Genghis Han, Napoleon or Lenin. She is well aware of abuses of power but, she argues, creative individualists are not the ones guilty of it. Power hungry looters, who have nothing to contribute and therefore seek to control those who have, are. In other words, her enemy is not the worker but the dictator. Therefore, as Flahaul quotes Rand, she is in favor of overthrowing them before they succeed in extinguishing freedom eveywhere:
The role of a free country such as the US is thus to make sure that things go in the right direction: that of an alliance between democracy and radical capitalism. “Any free nation had the right to invade Nazi Germany and, today, has the right to invade Soviet Russia, Cuba or any other slave pen” (6). “The invasion of an enslaved country,” Rand maintains “is morally justified only when and if the conquerors establish a free social system” (7).
Yes, Rand would have agreed with Ruth Wisse that George W. Bush was superior to Bill Clinton because "Bush Destroyed a Dictator. Clinton Installed One." She would have agreed that Israel is acting morally in fighting Hamas in Gaza, Sri Lanka in fighting the Tamil Tigers in Jaffna and Colombia in fighting FARC. She would merely wish them to do so more consistently and energetically.
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Paul Beaird - 1/5/2010
Paul Notley asks, ". Has anyone who was not part of Rand's sinister cult of personality ever found the slightest literary merit in her novels?"
If one is interested in artistic and philosophical analysis of Rand's novels, one could spend some time in the books edited by Robert Mayhew:
Essays on Ayn Rand's Anthem
Essays on Ayn Rand's We The Living
Essays on Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead
Essays on Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged
Most of the contributors to these volumes never met Ayn Rand and so were not part of a personality cult. Most are university professors. And, any reader with a background in literary and/or philosophical analysis can read and judge for himself the merits of the essays and, from them, the merits of Rand's novels. Of course, for someone so equipped, there is no substitute for reading these inspiring novels for himself.
The rest of Notley's rant reveals utter ignorance of Rand's actual views. Her non-fiction writing, though vast, is accessible for anyone to read and enjoy the facts-first tone of a woman devoted to fact and reason.
Miss Klinghoffer has nothing to apologize for in giving justice to Rand's views.
Paul Beaird - 1/5/2010
Miss Klinghoffer does a fair and mostly accurate job of presenting Rand's views agains the misrepresentations of the French critic. A brief intro to Rand's philosophy of Objectivism may be had by taking in hand Andrew Bernstein's small book, Objectivism in One Lesson.
Judith Apter Klinghoffer - 1/28/2009
Let me set the record straight: 1. Of course, Rand recognizes obligations to immediate family though she does not focus on them probably because she was childless (for the same reason, Jane Austen does not describe the marriage of her protagonists. Authors know their limitations). The population of Galt Gultch includes women and children. My reference was clearly to the relationship of unrelated adults. 2. The recognition of the dichotomy between the creative and the power hungry has been recognized since biblical times. I direct you to the famous Fable of Jotham in Judges about the wish of the trees for a king (http://www.alltruebible.com/judges_09-01.shtml). None of the fruit or shade wish to forgo their creative endevous for the sake of power. Who agrees? The bramble: "Finally, all the trees went to a bramble and asked it to be king, and the bramble said, "If you really want to make me king then stand in my shadow, otherwise I'll spit out fire and burn all the cedars in Lebanon.'" 3. I do not wish to take voting rights away from Palestinians. Indeed, the only Palestinians who have been able to vote freely and consistently have been the Palestinians citizens of Israel. Bramble Arafat was the reason Palestinians chose Hamas. But to their misfortune they discovered that have jumped from the pan to the fire. Nothing, by the way, angered the Muslim dictators more than George W. Bush's democracy advocacy. Nothing thrills these same curropt dictators more than Obama's promise to end it. See, Fuad Ajami, Obama Tells Arabia's Despots They're Safe America's diplomacy of freedom is officially over. (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123310499999722371.html)
The rest of your verbiage and attribution is not based on what I wrote but on baseless assumptions. Hence, it deserves no response.
Lorraine Paul - 1/27/2009
Oh! Notley I worship at your feet!!!
I, too, along with many others, think that there is just not a place for the Rands in today's discourse! If there ever was.
Paul Notley - 1/21/2009
The comment boards editors do not take kindly to ad homenin criticism. This makes this entry rather delicate because it would be hard to find a post-Nuremberg western intellectual, or any 20th century Jewish intellectual, whose ideas can be said to be so completely worthless as Ayn Rand's. Has anyone who was not part of Rand's sinister cult of personality ever found the slightest literary merit in her novels? Contemporary American conservatism, whether The New Criterion, National Review, Commentary or the American Prospect, aren't exactly synonomous with honest self-criticism. So if they are uncomfortable and embarrassed with the single most vitriolic opponent of the New Deal state, there's probably a really good reason for it.
Can we expect HNN to search for Neo-Confederate historians? After all Allen Tate wrote better poetry than Rand's prose. (Come to think of it, so did Mao). There are a whole host of "libertarians" who pretend the Civil war was not about slavery but about tariffs. David Irving manage to bamboozle many reputable journalists and intellectuals for more than three decades that he was a reputable historian. Should the HNN should be searching for a plausible replacement for his views? Truly, she makes Sholokhov look like Tolstoy and Althusser look like Spinoza. Her crude positivism has a grasp of scientific method that almost rivals Stalin's, while her capacity for empathy matches Mao's. I remember Objectivist propaganda spouting "A is A," apparently not recognizing the difference between a fact and a tautology. If Leo Strauss was a middlebrow Nietzschean, then Rand was the most vulgar of vulgar Nietzscheans.
Klinghoffer's fan note doesn't do much to change this verdict. "Rand rejects the notion that individuals have obligations towards other." Really? Parents have no responsibility to their children? And isn't there a rather large tradition in western civilization, and most others for that matter, that people only develop their humanity in relationship with other humans? Klinghoffer also states "She is well aware of abuses of power but, she argues, creative individualists are not the ones guilty of it. Power hungry looters, who have nothing to contribute and therefore seek to control those who have, are." Really, there is no blurring of the line between the two? There is no dialectic or complexity? Schumpeter's "Creative Destruction" was just a fantasy concocted by an enemy of The Truth?
And as for terrorism, quoting Ruth Wisse is an ironic touch. Israel's defenders have been shedding crocodile tears for the Palestinians for decades. If only they had responsible leaders Israel could make the move to a just peace. But the Wisse I recall is the one who in 1988 described the Palestinians as "people who bleed and breed and advertise their misery." For her, the best way to protect the Palestinians from the dictatorship of Arafat or Hamas is to make sure they never have the opportunity to choose anything ever again. But then Rand has her own ironies about terrorism. The whole crux of The Fountainhead revolves around the heroic architect Howard Roark allowing another architect to use his plans to make a building, on the proviso that he does not change them. Since the second architect is a foil for what Rand hates, he is cowardly weakling, and of courses changes the plans. Does Roark sues said cowardly weakling? No, he blows up the building and wins an acquital on the grounds that basic contract law is a Communist plot. This seems to open a rather large door for Palestinian terrorism. Or does Klinghoffer think Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank (not to mention the parts of Israel that were alloted to the Palestinian state in 1947) were acquired with scrupulous regard for their property rights?
Clare Lois Spark - 1/20/2009
After seeing her mocked in the recent film, The Passion of Ayn Rand, it is refreshing to see this spirited defense by Judith Klinghoffer.
The humanities have taken an overwhelmingly collectivist turn since the end of world war 2. That is, the mystical discourse of "community" or Gemeinschaft has almost destroyed the very notion of the dissenting, creative individual, yet it is that individual who is the subject of our civil rights as originally envisioned in the eighteenth century, and carried on by such as Charles Sumner in the nineteenth century. It was no accident that cultural history displaced "scientific history" starting in the mid-1930s, and historians would do well to think through the consequences for our intellectual life when the emancipated individual, as a concept, melted into the mass.
I wrote about this transformation for HNN. See http://hnn.us/articles/4533.html.
Randll Reese Besch - 1/19/2009
Saddam? No. It was the USA that helped him into power. Sided with him in 1983 then turned on him in 1990. Saddam had not changed one bit. That same old former hitman turned dictator as he always had been.
Ahh yes, the way to get out of poverty is to work in a prison for very low wages you may not even get. No doubt a Steve Jobs or an Einstein could do as well in such conditions of near slavery. I dare say it is the owners who profit off of those kinds of living hells. Worker protection? A 'Marxist' idea probably and should be suppressed. Ahh yes selfishness leads to a cooperative and just society? No, but the anarchist idea of Mutual Aid does.
J. Michael Bergstrom - 1/19/2009
Shalom Patrick Hamou - 1/17/2009
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Out of the $5,000,000,000,000 given out to the banks, that is $1,000 for every inhabitant of this planet, what is it exactly that WE, The People, got?
A Credit Free, Free Market Economy Is Possible.
Both Dynamic on the Short Run & Stable on the Long Run.
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Let me outline for you my proposed strategy:
✔ Preserve Your Belongings.
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✔ A Specific Application of Employment Interest and Money.
[A Tract Intended For my Fellows Economists].
If Risk Free Interest Rates Are at 0.00% Doesn't That Mean That Credit is Worthless?
Since credit based currencies are managed by setting interest rates, on which all control has been lost, are they managed anymore?
We Need, Hence, Cancel All Interest Bearing Debt and Abolish Interest Bearing Credit.
In This Age of Turbulence The People Wants an Exit Out of Credit: An Adventure in a New World Economic Order.
The other option would be to wait till most of the productive assets of the economy get physically destroyed either by war or by rust.
It will be either awfully deadly or dramatically long.
A price none of us can afford to pay.
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