Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Objectivism Overruled

At the First Things blog, Joe Carter points us to a well-done review of Atlas Shrugged by The Cranky Conservative:

And that leads to the philosophic problems with the book, namely with Rand's objectivist philosophy. Now as a conservative with libertarian sympathies, especially as it relates to economics, one would expect me to agree with much of what Rand has written. In a word, no. In two words, hell no. Oh, that's right, there is no hell.

The atheism is only a small part of the issue with objectivism. Galt (and thus Rand's) objection to the concept of original sin is naive, but even absent this aspect of objectivism, it remains a dehumanizing and abhorrent moral philosophy. Rand detests totalitarianism, it is true, but other writers have written better and less repugnant works in defense of capitalism and against totalitarianism. If libertarians and conservatives wish to seek out inspirational works on the topic, they are better off with the likes of George Orwell, C.S. Lewis, Thomas Sowell, Wilhelm Roepke, F.A. Hayek and countless others.

The fundamental problem is that Rand is as naive about human nature as the socialist utopians. After all, a utopian is a utopian, whether they are Marxian or Randian utopians. Therefore the rejection of the concept of original sin is something of a problem because it blinds Rand to the idea that human beings cannot simply shut off their passionate desires. If totalitarians are blind to the reality that human nature cannot be perfected, Rand is blind to the fact that the altruistic tendencies of humans cannot similarly be wiped out. Believe it or not, we are social beings (Aristotle and Aquinas being right), and it is simply unrealistic--and Rand is supposed to be about reason and realism--to expect humans to simply ignore these aspects of their personality.

It's probably worth you while to slog your way through "Atlas Shrugged" at some point. But when you do, it's important to recognize that while Rand made some very astute and prescient observations, her underlying philosophy of life is as barren and empty of truth and meaning as those that she so successfully critiqued.

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