Robert Reich explains why Ayn Rand’s ideas have destroyed the common good.
Donald Trump once said he identified
with ayan rands character Howard Roark
in The Fountainhead an architect so
upset that a housing project he designed
didn’t meet specifications
he had it dynamited others in Trump
Circle were influenced by Rand Atlas
Shrugged was said to be the favorite
book of Rex Tillerson Trump Secretary of
State’s Randa also had a major influence
on Mike Pompeo from CIA chief Trump’s
first nominee for Secretary of Labor
Andrew Posner said he spent much of his
free time reading Rand the Republican
leader of the House of Representatives
required his staff to read Rams I grew
up reading Iran it inspired me so much
that it’s required waiting in my office
for all my interns of my staff Uber’s
founder and former CEO Travis kalanick
has described himself as a ran follower
before he was sacked he applied many of
her ideas to obras code of values and
even used the cover art for rands book
The Fountainhead as his Twitter avatar
so who is iron Rand and why does she
matter line Rand best known for two
highly popular novels still widely read
today The Fountainhead
published in 1943 an Atlas Shrugged
in 1957 didn’t believe there was a
common good she wrote that selfishness
is a virtue an altruism an evil that
destroys nations when Rand offered these
ideas they seemed quaint
if not far-fetched anyone who lived
through the prior half-century witnessed
our interdependence through depression
and war and after the war we used our
seemingly boundless prosperity to
finance all sorts of public goods
schools and universities a national
highway system and health care for the
Aged and poor we rebuilt war-torn Europe
we sought to guarantee the civil rights
and voting rights of African Americans
we open doors of opportunity to women
of course there was a common good we
were living it
but then starting in the late 1970s
rands views gained ground she became the
intellectual godmother of modern-day
American conservatism this utter
selfishness this contempt for the public
this win at any cost mentality is it
roading American life without adherence
to a set of common notions about right
and wrong we’re living in a jungle where
only the strongest cleverest and most
unscrupulous get ahead and where
everyone must be wary in order to
survive this is not a society it’s not
even a civilization because there’s no
civility at its core it’s a disaster in
other words we have to understand who I
am Rand is so we can reject her
philosophy and dedicate ourselves to
rebuilding the common good the idea of
the common good was once widely
understood and accepted in America I
mean after all the US Constitution was
designed for We the People seeking to
promote the general welfare not for me
the selfish jerk seeking as much wealth
and power as possible yet today you find
growing evidence of its loss
- CEOs who
couch their customers loot their
corporations into fraud investors
- lawyers and accountants who look the
other way when corporate clients play
fast and loose
- who even collude with
them to skirt the law
- Wall Street
bankers who defraud customers and investors
- film producers and publicists
who choose not to see that a powerful
movie mogul they depend on is sexually
harassing and abusing young women
- politicians who take donations really
bribes from wealthy donors and corporations to enact laws their patrons
- shudder the government when they
don’t get the partisan results they seek
- president of the United States who
repeatedly lies about important issues
refuses to put his financial holdings
into a blind trust and then personally
profits off his office and Momence
racial and ethnic
conflict the common good consists of our
shared values about what we owe one
another as citizens or bound together in
the same society a concern for the
common good keeping the common good in
mind is a moral attitude it recognizes
that we’re all in it together if there
is no common good
there is no society
the alt-right appealed to the young men — all of whom are white, conservative, and Evangelical — because it’s daring, and because the spirituality of megachurch Evangelicalism (in the kid’s view) is insipid. There was nothing much to inspire or to hold them. The alt-right fake “gospel” offered them an easy explanation of why they felt alienated and powerless, provided them with an enemy, and stoked their rage.
..It is anti-Christian, and it has strong arguments to make — not “strong” in the sense of “persuasive” (Rose is very much against the alt-right), but not arguments that can be easily dismissed with cries of “bigotbigotbigot!”
.. The alt-right is not stupid. It is deep. Its ideas are not ridiculous. They are serious. To appreciate this fact, one needs to inquire beyond its presence on social media, where its obnoxious use of insult, obscenity, and racism has earned it a reputation for moral idiocy. The reputation is deserved, but do not be deceived. Behind its online tantrums and personal attacks are arguments of genuine power and expanding appeal. As political scientist George Hawley conceded in a recent study, “Everything we have seen over the past year suggests that the alt-right will be around for the foreseeable future.”
.. The alt-right is anti-Christian. Not by implication or insinuation, but by confession. Its leading thinkers flaunt their rejection of Christianity and their desire to convert believers away from it. Greg Johnson, an influential theorist with a doctorate in philosophy from Catholic University of America, argues that “Christianity is one of the main causes of white decline” and a “necessary condition of white racial suicide.”
..“Like acid, Christianity burns through ties of kinship and blood,” writes Gregory Hood, one of the website’s most talented essayists. It is “the essential religious step in paving the way for decadent modernity and its toxic creeds.”
.. Alt-right thinkers are overwhelmingly atheists, but their worldview is not rooted in the secular Enlightenment, nor is it irreligious. Far from it. Read deeply in their sources—and make no mistake, the alt-right has an intellectual tradition—and you will discover a movement that takes Christian thought and culture seriously. It is a conflicted tribute paid to their chief adversary. Against Christianity it makes two related charges.
Beginning with the claim that Europe effectively created Christianity—not the other way around—it argues that Christian teachings have become socially and morally poisonous to the West. A major work of alt-right history opens with a widely echoed claim: “The introduction of Christianity has to count as the single greatest ideological catastrophe to ever strike Europe.”
.. Nietzsche got there first, of course — and he was not wrong about Christianity being a religion that exalts the meek.
.. Oswald Spengler’s Decline Of The West as a foundational text of the alt-right:
If Spengler’s theology is tendentious, his portrait of Western identity is deceptively powerful. To a young man lacking a strong identity he says, “This heroic culture is your inheritance, and yours alone. You stand in a line of men who have attained the highest excellences and freely endured the hardest challenges. Albert the Great, Cortés, Newton, Goethe, the Wright brothers all carry this daring spirit, and so do you.”
.. The juxtaposition was comic, just as it is comic to think about an obese, slovenly white guy vaping in front of his TV wearing a t-shirt sporting an image of, I dunno, Charlemagne, and a slogan claiming to be part of his lineage.
.. someone who is poor and at the bottom of the social hierarchy would find it consoling to identify with a hero — specifically, a racialized hero
.. There is no better introduction to alt-right theory than [Alain de Benoist’s] 1981 work On Being a Pagan. Its tone is serene, but its message is militant. Benoist argues that the West must choose between two warring visions of human life:
- biblical monotheism and
Benoist is a modern-day Celsus. Like his second-century predecessor, he writes to reawaken Europeans to their ancient faith. Paganism’s central claim is simple: that the world is holy and eternal. “Far from desacralizing the world,” Benoist tells us, paganism “sacralizes it in the literal sense of the word, since it regards the world as sacred.” Paganism is also a humanism. It recognizes man, the highest expression of nature, as the sole measure of the divine. God does not therefore create men; men make gods, which “exist” as ideal models that their creators strive to equal. “Man shares in the divine every time he surpasses himself,” Benoist writes, “every time he attains the boundaries of his best and strongest aspects.”
.. Benoist’s case against Christianity is that it forbids the expression of this “Faustian” vitality. It does so by placing the ultimate source of truth outside of humanity, in an otherworldly realm to which we must be subservient.
.. He accuses Christianity of crippling our most noble impulses. Christianity makes us strangers in our own skin, conning us into distrusting our strongest intuitions. We naturally respect beauty, health, and power, Benoist observes, but Christianity teaches us to revere the deformed, sick, and weak instead.
“Paganism does not reproach Christianity for defending the weak,” he explains. “It reproaches [Christianity] for exalting them in their weakness and viewing it as a sign of their election and their title to glory.”
.. Christianity is unable to protect European peoples and their cultures. Under Christianity, the West lives under a kind of double imprisonment. It exists under the power of a foreign religion and an alien deity. Christianity is not our religion. It thereby foments “nihilism.”
.. its universalism poisons our attachments to particular loyalties and ties. “If all men are brothers,” Benoist claims, “then no one can truly be a brother.”
.. Politics depends on the recognition of both outsiders and enemies, yet the Christian Church sees all people as potential members, indeed potential saints.
.. Christianity imparted to our culture an ethics that has mutated into what the alt-right calls “pathological altruism.” Its self-distrust, concern for victims, and fear of excluding outsiders—such values swindle Western peoples out of a preferential love for their own.
.. “Christianity provides an identity that is above or before racial and ethnic identity,” Richard Spencer complains. “It’s not like other religions that come out of a folk spirit.
.. invoking race as an emergency replacement for our fraying civic bonds. It is not alone; identity politics on the left is a response to the same erosion of belonging.
.. The alt-right is anti-Christian. But you cannot effectively fight the alt-right with progressive pieties and outrage. Nor can you effectively resist it with conventional conservative pieties, ones that do not address the crises that the alt-right is responding to
.. Richard Spencer is evil, but he is not stupid.
.. If elites believe that the core truth of our society is a system of interlocking and oppressive power structures based around immutable characteristics like race or sex or sexual orientation, then sooner rather than later, this will be reflected in our culture at large.
.. Conventional conservatism is doing nothing, or nothing effective, to resist this tyranny. Do you know who does stand up to it, unapologetically? The alt-right. Andrew Sullivan’s piece is not about the alt-right, but I see both him and Matthew Rose sounding a very similar alarm. Pay attention; this is serious.
.. You too, conventional liberals: your own acceptance and promotion of illiberal, racialist ideology under the guise of “social justice” is calling up these demons on the Right. The best way you can fight the alt-right is to fight the SJWs, whose militancy, and whose effective militancy, can only make the alt-right stronger.
Their conclusion is that the experience of wartime violence somehow changes people for the better, making them more cooperative and more trusting. And they have some theories explaining why.
.. In Sierra Leone, researchers found that people who had been exposed to more wartime violence were more generous — they shared more money in the dictator game than neighbors who hadn’t seen much violence.
.. Certain lab games found that exposure to war violence made people nicer toward members in their own village but not necessarily toward people outside their own community.
.. In recent years, evolutionary psychologists have argued that war may have played an important role in making us more cooperative. We know that humanity has a bloody past; constant conflict between different tribes would have extinguished any groups where people couldn’t work together or sacrifice themselves for the common good. At the same time, it doesn’t make sense to be indiscriminately kind toward others. If war made us nicer to our neighbors, it did not make us any more trusting of outsiders.
Why do social interventions work? Research on the evolution of cooperation provides an answer. Beyond helping our families — the people to whom we’re genetically related — making others better off is not our main motivation to give. Instead, we cooperate because it makes us look good. This can be going on consciously or, more often, subconsciously (a gut feeling of guilt when your neighbor sees you turning on your sprinkler).
.. The first is that such schemes often pay (or charge) too little, so it’s not worth the trouble. Avoiding an increase in a water bill of $25 a month just isn’t worth the effort of reprogramming the sprinklers.
In fact, such incentives can actually backfire.
Wilson is certain that it’s not by selecting for the fittest individuals within a group, as the popular picture of natural selection would suggest. The reason is simple. Tradeoffs are the norm in life and when individuals act to further their own interests they generally don’t further the interests of the group. Indeed individuals can often do best by cheating, that is by shirking their group duties and looking out for numero uno.
.. So then how can group function and altruism evolve? Simple, says Wilson: groups that include more altruists generally perform better as groups than groups that include fewer altruists. To return to our ants, a colony in which everyone selflessly plays their part is a healthy colony that functions, survives, and ultimately gives rise to a new colony more readily than would a colony that harbors selfish ants. In the language of biology, selecting for the fittest groups can increase the number of altruists through time.
.. Scientists, Wilson says, should be schooled in the idea of equivalence just as they are in hypothesis testing. This might well prevent scientists from wasting precious research time in futile debates over which bookkeeping scheme is fundamentally “correct,” a fate, he says, that plagued discussion of the levels of selection until recently.
.. Given its effectiveness in suppressing selfishness, Wilson, while a nonbeliever, appears respectfully tolerant of religious practice and distances himself from the heated rhetoric of “New Atheists” such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.
.. He tells us about Ayn Rand’s economic fundamentalism and walks us through Flash Boys, Michael Lewis’s account of high-frequency traders on Wall Street. Recoiling in a mix of moral and intellectual horror, he announces that “it was a monumental mistake to conclude that something as complex as a large society can self-organize on the basis of individual greed.”
.. Indeed Wilson argues that the only legitimate version of Adam Smith’s invisible hand is one that moves at the level of whole societies, sorting those economic arrangements that work from those that don’t. Wilson provides no examples here but, from his tone, it seems likely that he’d include American capitalist markets among those arrangements that don’t work for the benefit of people generally.
.. This isn’t to say that Wilson is necessarily wrong here and economists are right. But it is to say that it’s easy to win a debate when the other side’s arguments don’t get a fair hearing.