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Friday, June 7, 2013

Ayn Rand argues against the Enlightenment

A face book friend of mine has a facebook page entitled "Ayn Rand Collected Social Security" that is devoted to the situational ethics (or lack there-of) of Ayn Rand and those sharing her core values. His view of her is a little less nuanced than mine, but essentially the same. Nothing illustrates the immoral emptiness and hypocrisy of Randian/Darwinian/Nietzchean/Darwinian thinking like that title for his facebook group.

I wrote a lot about Ayn Rand about 5 years ago, but it's time to talk about her ideas some more. It's not personal, had I known her and been in her age group maybe I'd have found her hot and she'd have been on my past list of future ex-wives. I'm attracted to Psycho Babes, something that self-preservation has led me to learn to control.

[Reference to Today's "Bizaaro" cartoon]

Fortunately for me she's from a prior generation and is more my late Grandmom's age. Mercifully she's past. Unmercifully she has a cult following that includes many otherwise intelligent people and a lot of folks with power. Her "objectivism" is only the latest incarnation of Nietzchean, Machiavellian, Social Darwinian anti-Christian (and anti-God/Athieistic) rationalization for Mobster "Business" morality. What is funny, is how many people who claim to be Christians follow her rationales. But none of that is surprising, like many professional right wing folks she made her money traveling the motivational circuit and talking to businessmen and salesmen. They loved her.

Immoral images of morality

Arguing with the smarter libertarians is always a bit like being in Wonderland at the Red Queen's court. You hear arguments decrying situational ethics from practitioners. You hear arguments for immorality that claim their non existent morality is merely a fine clothe that only wise people can see. You hear claims that you don't need laws and regulations because immoral behavior is not in their (Long term) best interest. (Read [""] for truth) And sometimes you hear direct attacks on fundamental principles of morality and civilization disguised as a "new morality". These numerous bait and switch arguments sound reasonable until you think about them -- or see how they are applied. Then you see that they are using sugar to hide the taste of poison, and that they are arguments that are mere advertizing for a Bizarro world where right is wrong, selfishness is moral, and trust or doing the right thing is somehow immoral.

I've heard the arguments and for a long time I thought; "These people are smarter and have more status than I have, so I should keep my mouth shut and believe they might have a point. But the reality of their arguments is that the arguments degrade the subjects they touch, misrepresent what others are saying, and have negative consequences to social order and maybe even the survival of humankind. So I see I have a duty to challenge them. I've always liked challenging subjects because it allows me to learn by comparing what one person says to another. This lets me refresh my memory about reality and eases my anxiety about what I'm hearing when it sounds loopy. But the arguments sound good until the truth starts nagging at one's conscience. I've dated all of them. They are all psycho babes.

After doing this for a long time I find I've been around the block and heard both sides and and I can't afford to shut up. I don't want to have any flings that will result in "future ex-wives." Randianism, Friedmanism, Hayekism, Nietzcheanism, all go back to Edmund Burke and his betrayal of the enlightenment, and before that the ancient sophists and the Niccoli Machievelli. All through history Aristocrats have found it easy to enlist scholars to make their case. It takes courage to be a John Locke or a Thomas Paine. Everytime I read them I find myself appreciating the politicians and philosophers of the enlightenment more. ece of Machievelli and the ancient sophists, all of whom championed aristocracy out of cynicism and arrogance.

Supernatural God Atheists Straw Argument

Anyway, the Randians, try to undermine classical understandings of natural rights as “God Given” or “inalienable” by reducing these arguments to an absurdity. They claim that:

"The “natural” law to which Locke, Jefferson, and the other Enlightenment thinkers refer is not natural law but “supernatural” law. It comes not from nature but from “God.”"

But this is a straw argument because the “natural law” is referring to the laws of nature. It is not referring to a “supernatural law” because that would be the super-set of “Gods laws” that contain natural law. Conflating natural law with supernatural law because it “comes from God” is just misunderstanding the theological point – which is the notion that God created the world and all the laws in it. The laws of nature exist regardless of what man thinks about them, or how they came to exist. They are simply laws. Most of science is an explanation of the laws of nature, and until the post modern age even religious people understood that natural law, nature and the material world were a subset of the super-set of mystery which is beyond the reach of human minds that is called “Gods Law” and includes the material world, maybe as a small part of something much bigger and eternal. For classical writers it was taken for granted that “Natures God” or the “Philosopher’s God” could be seen as extractions referring to an order that was so gigantic and mysterious that it makes this entire world, from Adam to the End of Times, seem like a triffle. This view of God as a generative principle is as much an observation of our universe as it is a deduction from religion. When Jefferson says:

"Under the law of nature, all men are born free, every one comes into the world with a right to his own person, which includes the liberty of moving and using it at his own will. This is what is called personal liberty, and is given him by the Author of nature."

Classical writers like Jefferson (see assume God as a Generative principle, and the laws of nature as a subset of the laws of God. There is no conflict between “Gods Laws” and “Nature’s Laws”. Those laws are just there and an author, abstract or real is assumed. The real authority is the law itself, regardless of who wrote it. Similarly the universe exists, therefore something created it (even if it was self-created) and that something is defined as the “God of Creation”. This abstract notion exists because the universe (creation) exists. If that abstract notion is associated with some being the characteristics of that being are infinite size, mystery, and ineffableness. If somehow we resemble that creator we are very lucky.

So it is absurd to argue that:

If natural rights come from God, then proof of their existence depends on proof of God’s existence—and further, on proof that God somehow makes rights exist and cannot repeal them. But, again, there is no evidence for the existence of God, much less for the existence of natural moral laws or inalienable rights that somehow emanate from his will.

No, on the contrary the concept of natural rights comes from the concept of natural laws, which are a matter of observation as much as of religious interpretation. The whole idea of science is based on natural law, which is independent of whether the “creator” or “author” is any particular image invented by man, or even a rational being and not simply the mystery of self creation and a Life, the Universe and Everything that is simply there.

Denying false notions of God

But Rand and her followers just go on to show their ignorance further:

To accept the existence of “God” is ultimately to accept it on faith; accordingly, to accept the idea that “rights” somehow “come from God” is to rest one’s case for rights on faith. This will not do.

But this is a straw argument created by the counter-enlightenment. One does not accept the philosopher’s God, or the God of Nature on Faith. It is an abstraction from the existence of a Universe and the existence of nature and all the laws associated with it. It is the further attributes of God, that this “generative principle” somehow has a greater purpose or compassion for us tiny human beings that one has to have faith in. It is the other mysteries of our existenses in the face of eternity and our short lives that make that faith seem reasonable. But the case for rights does not depend on faith. It is the case for whether humans will ever keep their promises to each other on rights and ethics that requires faith.

He then quotes Ayn Rand directly:

”[T]o rest one’s case on faith means to concede . . . that one has no rational arguments to offer . . . that there are no rational arguments to support the American system, no rational justification for freedom, justice, property, individual rights, that these rest on a mystic revelation and can be accepted only on faith—that in reason and logic the enemy is right.”

Indeed in making this argument Ayn Rand and her followers have setup the same straw and bait and switch arguments that have allowed the resurrection of zombie pseudo fundamentalist and authoritarian ideas such as the abomination that God can be owned by man It is those who force people to choose between atheism and fundamentalism who are distorting reality. Not the philosophers of the enlightenment. Rand has setup a bait and switch argument. One that can just as easily be turned around by fanatics of all stripes. An atheist can say “there is no God, therefore you have no rights” and it will be just as absurd as when a fundamentalist says “Rights aren’t spelled out in the Bible therefore they don’t exist.” One doesn’t rest the case for rights on faith. The appeal to the authority of God is a convention used both to refer to the Philosopher’s God and the God of Nature, but doesn’t depend on it for rationality. It’s more a shorthand. The fact that Rand felt she needed to replace these arguments with others indicates how poorly she understood them not their irrationality.

So, It is the post modern regressive notion of a Authoritarian God that is being artificially pitted against the traditional notion that included God as abstract generative principle and nature’s God as the generator/creator of the laws of nature that causes her to feel she must make her arguments and that is the real problem. This reflects modern ignorance and bad education more than simple conflict. Formerly, people actually regularly studied theology and the bible as a literary and philosophical subject. They learned that the God referred to under so many names can be either an actual physical entity, an abstraction, or simply a stand in for an ineffable higher reality that no human being can image properly. They also learned that the notions of religion have evolved over many centuries and that none of us humans can claim a perfect wisdom, especially if one truly believes in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Moses. The side effect of folks not regularly studying religion is that they easily fall into the simplistic dogmas taught to the simple minded [including otherwise intelligent fanatics and authoritarians] or gullible by religious and political demagogues.

There is no need to choose between this sect or that sect or this image of God or that image of God. There is not even need to believe in the great ineffable God. All one can do is to declare for the “one true God,” put the emphasis on actual in fact truth, and hope that one has the subject right and that the ineffable one believes and helps one as one goes about doing what needs to be done. The law of Nature is part of the laws of Universe and we can only pray that Universe is sentient and listens to our prayers. No one is forced to declare for atheism in such a universe. A bit of skepticism about the perfect goodness of such a God might be order however.

So it is this post modern regressive notion of an authoritarian God imaged by preachers/Imams and pseudo fundamentalists of all kinds who claim to own God as the “one true religion” against it’s enemies – that is the heresy. The writers of the enlightenment had already refuted this heresy. It is the modern order that forces people to declare for absurdist images of God and to choose between atheism and deism on absurd arguments. And of course the irony is that most Randians choose to hold two absurd and contradictory ideas (fundamentalism and Randism) at the same time instead. Indeed many of them despise the theist arguments and prefer Rands arguments because they are more conducive to economic shenanigans.

State of Nature, in Context

Locke had talked in great detail about "the state of nature" and he was referring specifically to a time when man had not banded together into groups to protect himself from beasts and other men. He talked about this largely to refute naturalist, patronistic and abusive notions of liberty as he had found exemplified in a book by Sir Robert Filmer. The author of the article I'm citing has to understand this because the passage he cites from Locke looks very different when the context is restored. The passage the quote is taken from his definition of the State of Nature, which is not a supernatural state at all but an idealized state. Locke writes:

To understand political power aright, and derive it from its original, we must consider what estate all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of Nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man.

Thus he's talking about a "wild state" before any government of men is enforced. Not anything supernatural. And Locke continues:

A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another, there being nothing more evident than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of Nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another, without subordination or subjection, unless the lord and master of them all should, by any manifest declaration of his will, set one above another, and confer on him, by an evident and clear appointment, an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty.

Indeed this sounds like a libertarian or anarchist utopia. And Locke continues:

This equality of men by Nature, the judicious Hooker looks upon as so evident in itself, and beyond all question, that he makes it the foundation of that obligation to mutual love amongst men on which he builds the duties they owe one another, and from whence he derives the great maxims of justice and charity. His words are:

He then quotes a writer named Hooker:

“The like natural inducement hath brought men to know that it is no less their duty to love others than themselves, for seeing those things which are equal, must needs all have one measure; if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man’s hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire, which is undoubtedly in other men weak, being of one and the same nature: to have anything offered them repugnant to this desire must needs, in all respects, grieve them as much as me; so that if I do harm, I must look to suffer, there being no reason that others should show greater measure of love to me than they have by me showed unto them; my desire, therefore, to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant.” (Eccl. Pol. i.)

So certainly this "nature" that John Locke is referring to is utopian, but it is also a utopian ideal which people can ascribe to and strive toward. And now I can restore the context, stripped out by Ayn Rand and her propagandists:

But though this be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of licence; though man in that state have an uncontrollable liberty to dispose of his person or possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy himself, or so much as any creature in his possession, but where some nobler use than its bare preservation calls for it."

So, Locke's point is that even the state of nature -- the world before "the fall", the universe of completely free anarchistic communities has a Government:

"The state of Nature has a law of Nature to govern it, which obliges every one, and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions; for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker; all the servants of one sovereign Master, sent into the world by His order and about His business; they are His property, whose workmanship they are made to last during His, not one another’s pleasure. And, being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of Nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us that may authorise us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another’s uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for ours. Every one as he is bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his station wilfully, so by the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he as much as he can to preserve the rest of mankind, and not unless it be to do justice on an offender, take away or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another.

So Locke is making a limited argument. Given that there is a "state of Nature" even there the "Maker" governs. This was a clear argument among the educated and self educated people of the Enlightenment. There was no need to argue whether God was Moslem, Jewish, Hindu, Chinese or Christian. Chinese could understand "The rule of heaven" here, and any Atheist can understand what he's saying if it is read in context. Jefferson was a Deist, quoted above, who no more believed in a literal God in heaven than any modern Atheist, but he had no trouble with natural rights.

Liberty Bait and Switch - The Bait

Then the authors go on to make a series of additional straw arguments to undermine the notion of inalienable rights by claiming that there is an equation between them being God Given and them being inalienable. This is a bait argument, designed to appeal to the cynical, jaded, or folks who've simply rejected the authoritarian and simplistic (exoteric) preachings of contemporary American Religious demagogues. The first argument is:

"If natural rights come from God, then proof of their existence depends on proof of God’s existence—and further, on proof that God somehow makes rights exist and cannot repeal them.

But this turns the argument on it's head. It doesn't follow from the question of the "existence of God" that natural rights are granted from God. The God being defined here is associated with the "State of Nature" it's "god by definition" and a short cut to a whole load of related concepts; "the Good", "Right and wrong". It doesn't prove God that there are concepts like "The Good" or "Right and Wrong". It's just a way of saying that some things are laws of nature. Locke was arguing with people who argued that rights were privileges only for the owners, the aristocrats of the world. He accepted the concept of the Philosopher's God "The God of Nature" as a definitional principle. The existence of such a God is not a matter of faith or non-faith, but of convention. It's like saying that a woman's child "came from God" because they can't figure out who the father was, or that the bible was written by God due to the obscurity of it's many authors and editors. If folks had posited Newton's law before there was a Newton, his "laws of motion" would still be laws, even if somehow they'd gotten into the Bible and people believed that God had spoken them. Their validity exists independent of the validity of the relationship. But the author is simply trying to claim that there is no reasonable basis for the positing of moral laws!

But, again, there is no evidence for the existence of God, much less for the existence of natural moral laws or inalienable rights that somehow emanate from his will."

So the purpose of this whole effort to reduce 1000 year of developing ideas about rights and theology into an absurdist statement is to bait a hook with a convenient substitute for natural rights. And the author further confuses his marks by tying the notion of natural rights to a mere "article of faith!"

"To accept the existence of “God” is ultimately to accept it on faith; accordingly, to accept the idea that “rights” somehow “come from God” is to rest one’s case for rights on faith. This will not do."

He then ties this entire exercise in sophistryto the core amoral/immoral Randian attack on the enlightenment, quoting Rand:

[T]o rest one’s case on faith means to concede . . . that one has no rational arguments to offer . . . that there are no rational arguments to support the American system, no rational justification for freedom, justice, property, individual rights, that these rest on a mystic revelation and can be accepted only on faith—that in reason and logic the enemy is right.

But the author of this article is playing a game of sleight of hand. Locke, when he describes the State of Nature is not arguing that man is in that state, he's setting up a deeper argument.

A Priori does not mean "resting on faith"

A Priori reasoning is not resting on faith. It is stating that some principles are simply true and one uses judgment and reason to capture that truth and discover them. Natural law in the realm of physics takes this characteristic. The "State of Nature" that John Locke described is looking at the root of rights by imaging what they are. But he also looked at the roots of rights by looking at what they were not. Natural rights are not matters of faith. Liberty and it's opposite are states one can experience. A person in a prison might be free in his or her mind, but she's still in a jail and by definition deprived of her physical liberty. Similarly with "health, limb, goods"; these rights are all connected to survival. Ayn Rand isn't inventing a new argument when she roots values in the a-priori notion of "life:"

Metaphysically, life is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself: a value gained and kept by a constant process of action. Epistemologically, the concept of “value” is genetically dependent upon and derived from the antecedent concept of “life.” To speak of “value” as apart from “life” is worse than a contradiction in terms. “It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible.”

So her God is "life", part of "life, the universe and everything. She rejects "God" and then names God life. Still a-priori reasoning. And you don't need faith so much as trust. But then when Locke described the idealized State of Nature he was doing so to setup a better vision. Because the state of nature requires virtue to sustain it, or a God that can act in the world and punish miscreants. As Locke notes after finishing his discussion of the laws of the State of nature and the ways they might be enforced -- the only men truly in a state of nature, are monarchs:

"It is often asked as a mighty objection, where are, or ever were, there any men in such a state of Nature? To which it may suffice as an answer at present, that since all princes and rulers of “independent” governments all through the world are in a state of Nature, it is plain the world never was, nor never will be, without numbers of men in that state. I have named all governors of “independent” communities, whether they are, or are not, in league with others; for it is not every compact that puts an end to the state of Nature between men, but only this one of agreeing together mutually to enter into one community, and make one body politic; other promises and compacts men may make one with another, and yet still be in the state of Nature. The promises and bargains for truck, etc., between the two men in Soldania, in or between a Swiss and an Indian, in the woods of America, are binding to them, though they are perfectly in a state of Nature in reference to one another for truth, and keeping of faith belongs to men as men, and not as members of society"

Locke is deducing natural rights and then associating them with the "State of Nature" and a man-created "State of Civilization" and not claiming that their only source is from God. He's also setting up a "State of Civilization as a civilized alternative to the State of Nature. In the process he uses the brilliant tool of exegesis to link rights to the concept of "trust" using the examples of Cain for what happens to transgressors under a state of nature and then Saul to describe what happens to transgressors of the public trust. He describes as his less than ideal, but practical world a trustworthy society in which those with power and authority exercise it subject to the trust of those they lead. Locke linked that trust to God's trust but firmly ties God's trust to the people's trust. Locke's argument only rests on God to the extent that the trust of God is a reflection of the trust of the people. Lockes' argument is emminently rational and stands on it's own even without the Judeo-Christian Context. Her attack on natural rights on atheist grounds falls flat

Liberty Bait and Switch - The Switch

But this whole attack on the core principles of the enlightenment wouldn't be complete without a substitute argument. And for that Rand only offers her notions of enlightened Self Interest. She starts out saying things that anyone with a thorough understanding of the concepts of the enlightenment might support;

The maintenance of life and the pursuit of happiness are not two separate issues. To hold one’s own life as one’s ultimate value, and one’s own happiness as one’s highest purpose are two aspects of the same achievement. Existentially, the activity of pursuing rational goals is the activity of maintaining one’s life; psychologically, its result, reward and concomitant is an emotional state of happiness. . . .

But of course the issue of the pursuit of happiness and it's identity with moral values is not a new thing. If that were all involved then the best government might be the "State of Nature" described earlier. But the problem with civilization is that there has to be rule of law, someone with the power to judge, for justice to be achieved in adjudicating boundary issues. If one's own happiness means transgressing on the happiness of others -- then we need states. She claims:

There is only one fundamental right (all others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action—which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life. (Such is the meaning of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.)

Of course, in the end even our lives are transcient, so people also have the right to give their lives to some cause or to behave patriotically or valiantly. If the only right is the "right to one's own life" that isn't much of a right if it doesn't include all the dressing that makes life worth living.

But then she asserts something irrational:

"But the relationship of cause to effect cannot be reversed. It is only by accepting “man’s life” as one’s primary and by pursuing the rational values it requires that one can achieve happiness—not by taking “happiness” as some undefined, irreducible primary and then attempting to live by its guidance. If you achieve that which is the good by a rational standard of value, it will necessarily make you happy; but that which makes you happy, by some undefined emotional standard, is not necessarily the good.

Virtue, duty, honor, don't necessarily equate to happiness. And temporary happiness doesn't always equate to long term satisfaction. Drug addicts are happy while high, but transgress boundaries when seeking to get high. So "man's life" as primary value might sound good, but it doesn't help the soldier, sailor, policeman or whistle-blower when the needs of the greater good outweigh one's personal happiness. Moreover, it doesn't even make sense that one's own life is always one's primary goal. Sometimes we give ourselves to the public good even if it hurts. Ayn Rand is not making new arguments. But she is oversimplifying a nuanced reality. Cause is action, effect is result -- we do our duty even if we don't personally benefit and usually get some vicarious benefit from doing so. For example, being able to look at oneself in a mirror and like oneself is worth ten boxes of chocolate or a hundred gold bars.

She writes:

"No individual or private group or private organization has the legal power to initiate the use of physical force against other individuals or groups and to compel them to act against their own voluntary choice. Only a government holds that power. The nature of governmental action is: coercive action. The nature of political power is: the power to force obedience under threat of physical injury—the threat of property expropriation, imprisonment, or death."

Anyone who has been evicted, thrown out of a business by private guards for protesting or because the Boss felt like it, or read any history knows that either businesses in our world are government or they control governments. Ayn Rand is now starting to make a false argument, as she did repeatedly before audiences small and large, her whole life.

Next she argues, first by restating and subtly distorting a common definition:

“Rights” are a moral concept—the concept that provides a logical transition from the principles guiding an individual’s actions to the principles guiding his relationship with others—the concept that preserves and protects individual morality in a social context—the link between the moral code of a man and the legal code of a society, between ethics and politics. Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law."

No, Rights are common standards, principles of action, that govern both individuals and groups and that state and codify moral laws. Not only individuals. But she equates this with "egoism":

The moral law that Rand speaks of here is the principle of egoism—the observation-based moral truth that each individual should act to promote his own life and is the proper beneficiary of his own actions. Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to the truth of egoism.

I'd laugh at the absurdity of this statement except it is so absurd I can't find anybody who even thought to question it until she made it. But the notion of rights as subordinating society to egoism flies in the face of the origins of rights. The only people who have the power to subordinate society to their egoism are the monarchs, who as Locke observed are "in a state of nature" and not always subject to civilized rules. Thus advocating egoism is very much similar to what Sir John filmer advocates. So basically she's arguing something similar to the divine right of Kings.

Locke's definition of liberty is very different:

And he defines liberty in contrast with slavery and in the context of trust:

"21. The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but to have only the law of Nature for his rule. The liberty of man in society is to be under no other legislative power but that established by consent in the commonwealth, nor under the dominion of any will, or restraint of any law, but what that legislative shall enact according to the trust put in it. Freedom, then, is not what Sir Robert Filmer tells us: “A liberty for every one to do what he lists, to live as he pleases, and not to be tied by any laws”; but freedom of men under government is to have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it. A liberty to follow my own will in all things where that rule prescribes not, not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man, as freedom of nature is to be under no other restraint but the law of Nature."

For Locke the foundation of government is the trust of the people, not faith:

"149. Though in a constituted commonwealth standing upon its own basis and acting according to its own nature—that is, acting for the preservation of the community, there can be but one supreme power, which is the legislative, to which all the rest are and must be subordinate, yet the legislative being only a fiduciary power to act for certain ends, there remains still in the people a supreme power to remove or alter the legislative, when they find the legislative act contrary to the trust reposed in them. For all power given with trust for the attaining an end being limited by that end, whenever that end is manifestly neglected or opposed, the trust must necessarily be forfeited, and the power devolve into the hands of those that gave it, who may place it anew where they shall think best for their safety and security. And thus the community perpetually retains a supreme power of saving themselves from the attempts and designs of anybody, even of their legislators, whenever they shall be so foolish or so wicked as to lay and carry on designs against the liberties and properties of the subject. For no man or society of men having a power to deliver up their preservation, or consequently the means of it, to the absolute will and arbitrary dominion of another, whenever any one shall go about to bring them into such a slavish condition, they will always have a right to preserve what they have not a power to part with, and to rid themselves of those who invade this fundamental, sacred, and unalterable law of self-preservation for which they entered into society. And thus the community may be said in this respect to be always the supreme power, but not as considered under any form of government, because this power of the people can never take place till the government be dissolved.

But of course Ayn Rand argues that people are enslaved when someone "takes" their produce which starts with a reasonable argument again:

"If some men are entitled by right to the products of the work of others, it means that those others are deprived of rights and condemned to slave labor. Any alleged “right” of one man which necessitates the violation of the rights of another, is not and cannot be a right. No man can have a right to impose an unchosen obligation, an unwarranted duty or an involuntary servitude on another man. There can be no such thing as “the right to enslave.”"

This would actually make sense except she abandons this restatement of the labor theory of value for one that gives all the credit for production to the owners of production and not labor.

The author then summarizes her arguments, claiming they are superior to 300 years of institutional wisdom because:1; there is no such thing as God, and two because:

Rand’s theory holds not that rights are “inherent,” but that they are objective—not that they are “inborn,” but that they are conceptual identifications of the factual requirements of human life in a social context. Her theory is, as this essay has endeavored to show, demonstrably true.

Objective means that they can be deduced (or adduced) from observation. If they are objective, that means the concepts involved were true all along, which means that they are a-priori, which also means that they are inherent. So her argument falls apart by itself. Moreover, her argument is based on the invented argument that the problem with rights theory is because there is no God and that the real problem is that society believes that "self interest is evil"

But the problem is not that "self interest is evil" but that our system imposes obligations, and often forces or swindles people into choosing sub-optimal obligations to people who then live of rents from their labor, rents from their shelter, food, and survival; and who have the power to enforce their "private, separate advantage" through courts and a rigged government. The captains of business she so championed have thus imposed servitude on the vast majority of people of this world, and they use "egoism is good" as their excuse. So her moral system is mostly bait and switch argument and part of a general attack on enlightened values. Where it holds together it borrows or rewords bedrock notions, but where it causes horrible dislocation is her unreasonable assessment of the role of business corporations. The Bait is "enlightened self interest" the switch is local and business tyranny. As Locke said:

"199. As usurpation is the exercise of power which another hath a right to, so tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, which nobody can have a right to; and this is making use of the power any one has in his hands, not for the good of those who are under it, but for his own private, separate advantage. When the governor, however entitled, makes not the law, but his will, the rule, and his commands and actions are not directed to the preservation of the properties of his people, but the satisfaction of his own ambition, revenge, covetousness, or any other irregular passion."

So selfishness and ego coupled with power is but a source of tyranny. In trying to make a name for herself Rand was just following in a line of shills for power that dates back to Sir Robert Filmer.


Every argument on this page comes from my handy dandy copy of John Locke's book "Two Treatises on Government", my memory, or from the following web-page:

A good read for John Locke (i have multiple):
Argumentation on Ayn Rand (taken 6/7/2013):
Rational self interest: [""]
Further reading on Ayn Rand
Worst Aunt ever:
Clinical Psychologist on how she's influenced our country (for the worst):
Ayn Rand and Dick Cavett:
"She was supposed to be on my show; I was kind of sorry she wasn’t, because I was kind of laying for her. I did not succumb, as a kid, to being enthused by Ayn Rand, and that sense of power, as every kid was at one time until they outgrew it. The old bag sent over a list of fifteen conditions for appearing with me, or for appearing with anyone, I guess. One of them was, “There will be no disagreeing with Ms. Rand’s philosophy.”"


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