“Representative Ryan’s wish to save the nation from sloth, and (Grover) Norquist’s targeting any politician able to imagine a circumstance that requires a tax increase … take inspiration from the key Social Darwinist in our time, Ayn Rand.”
In the interests of continuity with two previous columns, I am again quoting myself. The topic—Social Darwinism-- is worthy of further, close attention: it reflects an underlying theory of human nature at the heart of many conservative writers and voters’ thinking.
Those who subscribe to this theory assert that winners win and losers lose in a natural process that only works when left alone. In nature, some species prevail and flourish, others fail and pass into biological history. So it is with humans, and this means the process of natural selection should not be interfered with. Most notably, interference occurs when governments engage in social engineering, by attempting to “do good” through regulation, and tax-funded programs like Welfare.
Here’s a comment in a November 21, 2011 letter to the editor denouncing liberals for such policies: “Democrats believe they can tax the most successful companies, and individuals, and that will create jobs. Ridiculous!” The previous May, a prominent local figure in the tea party also denounced planned tax increases: “…increasing Exxon Mobil taxes by eliminating write-offs for exploration and technology expenditures is irrational. *** Furthermore, our government must stop attacking executive compensation as a cause of high prices.”
Excepting such things as write-offs for exploration and tech expenditures in the oil industry, or open-ended executive salaries, those who embrace Rand-like principles condemn programs they have dubbed “entitlements.” The term expresses their belief that many people have grown so accustomed to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the like that the body politic now sees itself as entitled to them. Mistakenly, many Americans consider health care, a minimum wage and even child-labor laws as protecting inalienable rights.
By contrast, a Social Darwinist sees government help and regulation as perverting the natural order by which we as individuals and as a society can realize our true potential. He supports the notion that success and wealth are attributable to superior brains and hard work, just as social and economic failure are the responsibility of those who fail, not of society.
Ayn Rand’s point of view, called Objectivism, expresses this central principle, and rejects all government “tinkering.” According to listverse.com, Rand “was an uncompromising advocate of rational individualism and laissez-faire capitalism, and vociferously opposed socialism, altruism, and other contemporary philosophical trends. *** Her objectivist philosophy had a strong influence on the evolution of the Libertarian political philosophy movement….”
Representatives Paul Ryan and Ron Paul are two high-profile adherents to this philosophy. Paul underscored his admiration by naming his son, now the junior senator from Kentucky, Rand. Ryan is on record as saying he requires members of his staff to read Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged.
Devotees of Objectivism insist that a society made up of competing individuals, unencumbered by social, environmental or other regulation—especially unhindered by taxation—will bring about the best of all possible worlds. That is, the best of all possible material worlds: Excepting capitalism, Rand held all religions in contempt.
What follows are some of the thinker’s often-repeated words of wisdom. They, too, are taken from http://listverse/com/2007/12/top-25-ayn-rand-quotes/:
“Government ‘help’ to business is just as disastrous as government persecution…the only way a government can be of service to national prosperity is by keeping its hands off.”
“It only stands to reason that where there’s sacrifice, there’s someone collecting the sacrificial offerings. Where there’s service, there is someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice is speaking of slaves and master, and intends to be the master.”
“Money is the barometer of a society’s virtue.”
“There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil.”
Readers are invited to apply these observations to columns and letters published in the Daily News, and to ask the following: Is such a vision of life and society accurate? Does it derive naturally and inevitably from a realistic understanding of human nature?
Certainly, no honest person can deny the importance of self-interest. The real question is whether that’s all we need to know, in order to succeed as individuals and as a society. I think not, and I will try next week to explain why. I will also sketch what a society actually based on Rand’s ideas would look like.