Conservatives Should Think Again Before Following John Galt

Conservatives and libertarians who think that a few point increase in the marginal tax rate is reason to drop out of society as in Atlas Shrugged seem to be out of touch with reality. Many of them also have little understanding of Ayn Rand’s views and fail to realize how low an opinion Rand would have of them. Democratic Strategist presents some quotations from Rand which conservatives might not want to read:

Capitalism is what the “conservatives” dare not advocate or defend. They are paralyzed by the profound conflict between capitalism and the moral code which dominates our culture: the morality of altruism . . . Capitalism and altruism are incompatible; they are philosophical opposites; they cannot co-exist in the same man or in the same society.

–Conservatism: An Obituary” from Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal

I consider National Review the worst and most dangerous magazine in America…[b]ecause it ties capitalism to religion. The ideological position of National Review amounts, in effect, to the following: In order to accept freedom and capitalism, one has to believe in God or in some form of religion, some form of supernatural mysticism.”

–1964 Playboy Interview

Faith, as such, is extremely detrimental to human life: it is the negation of reason.

–1964 Playboy interview.

If they [people] place such things as friendship and family ties above their own productive work, yes, then they are immoral. Friendship, family life and human relationships are not primary in a man’s life. A man who places others first, above his own creative work, is an emotional parasite.”

–1964 Playboy interview

Abortion is a moral right—which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered.

—-“Of Living Death,” The Objectivist, 1968

I cannot project the degree of hatred required to make those women run around in crusades against abortion. Hatred is what they certainly project, not love for the embryos, which is a piece of nonsense no one could experience, but hatred, a virulent hatred for an unnamed object…Their hatred is directed against human beings as such, against the mind, against reason, against ambition, against success, against love, against any value that brings happiness to human life.

–“The Age of Mediocrity,” The Objectivist Forum, 1981

I am profoundly opposed to Ronald Reagan. Since he denies the right to abortion, he cannot be a defender of any rights. Since he has no program or ideology to offer, his likeliest motive for entering a Presidential race is power-lust.

–Letter to the Editor, The New York Times, August 11, 1976 (subscription only)

Rand did not think much of either conservatives or libertarians:

Above all, do not join the wrong ideological groups or movements, in order to ‘do something.’ By ‘ideological’ (in this context), I mean groups or movements proclaiming some vaguely generalized, undefined (and, usually, contradictory) political goals. (E.g., the Conservative Party, which subordinates reason to faith, and substitutes theocracy for capitalism; or the ‘libertarian’ hippies, who subordinate reason to whims, and substitute anarchism for capitalism.) To join such groups means to reverse the philosophical hierarchy and to sell out fundamental principles for the sake of some superficial political action which is bound to fail. It means that you help the defeat of your ideas and the victory of your enemies.”

–“What Can One Do?” from Philosophy: Who Needs It, an address to the graduating class at West Point, 1974

Neither I nor “Atlas Shrugged” nor my philosophy has any connection with the so-called “Libertarian” movement. I hold that politics without a consistent philosophical base leads to disaster. The “Libertarian” movement is a random movement of emotional hippies-of-the-right who play at politics without philosophy or consistency.

–Letter to the Editor, The New York Times, August 11, 1976 (subscription only)

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6 Comments

  1. 1
    cognitive dissident says:

    They don’t understand marginal tax rates, they don’t understand Ayn Rand…maybe we would all be better off if they left society to go live in a gulch somewhere.

    If the Randroids split from the GOP, will that exacerbate the divide between the Libertarian wing and the Religious Right?

  2. 2
    Fritz says:

    There are very, very few people in the GOP who have read Rand, let alone follow her philosophy.  As Ron points out, she was actively hostile to religion, and especially to religious prohibitions against self-ownership.   Followers of Rand in the GOP are at least as marginalized as gay Republicans.

    I find it constantly and intensely amusing that Pam Geller names her blog after Atlas Shrugged. 

    I don’t think anyone is suggesting that a large number of people are going to completely drop out of society because of small changes in the marginal tax rate.  I think it is not unreasonable to believe that people will alter their marginal behavior based on marginal tax rates and that these changes will have perceptible effects.  Why is there such resistance to the notion that tax rates have behavioral consequences?

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    Fritz,

    Check out some of the conservative blogs. Some really are suggesting that people drop out due to the current tax rates and economic policies, and some claim to have done so.

    I don’t think anyone doubts that changes in the tax rates will have behavioral consequences. The question is how much. I certainly am not going to do less work because I’m taxed at a few points higher rate and I doubt any other rational business owners will either.

  4. 4
    nomoreGOP says:

    Well…. I think a MAJOR part of this whole argument (as well as the previously mentions socialist BS claim) is that our Mainstream Television Media IS FAILING MISERABLY!

    When these so-called “experts” are given hours upon hours of coverage.. and continue to misinform the American Public without a single anchor or journalist having the balls to say “wait a minute… please define socialism” it tears away at the very fabric of reporting, period. If ANY Politicians start making up random crap, there NEEDS to be a voice standing up for the truth (and not the made-up truth called “faith”.. real truth. concrete with facts and evidence).

    What happened to actual checks and balances (you know.. editors..) to make sure these people are being truthful, instead of spewing absolute crap while just trying to further their own personal agenda?? The second that these blatantly lying Republicans try to use the same old “scare” tactics (calling Obama a socialist, for one) Someone from the Socialist Party should of been doing the rounds on every single station (including FAUX..err.. FOX News) explaining that Obama is NOT a socialist.. and giving the true definition, as well as examples..

    This is basic reporting 101.. yet its left to us on the net/blog world to try and fight for the correct information to be put out there, and NO BODY is being held accountable for anything these days. Its sad.

  5. 5
    Eclectic Radical says:

    Fritz, I think you underestimate the impact of Rand on political conservatives. I agree with you that the Republican base and those political figures drawn directly from it have no knowledge or understanding of objectivism at all. However, much of the neoconservative intellectual elite either professes to objectivism or advances objectivist justifications for neoconservatism. Neoconservative pundits like Christopher Hitchens and Andrew Sullivan are self-proclaimed objectivists. Monetarism seeks to make Malthusian statements about the economy using objectivist values instead of Christian values (which Malthus, a clergyman, clung to), to avoid the sense of gloomy, guilty doom that colors classical Malthusian economic thought. For all that you are correct that it is alien to most Republicans, objectivism is very important to the formulation of Republican social and economic philosophy; or at least neoconservative social and economic philosophy.

    Ultimately, of course, objectivism merely substitutes faith in capitalism and democracy for faith in God and labels those unable to succeed in the free market as ‘sinners’ who deserve their fate. Neoconservatism is essentially the same, but rather than rejecting Christianity and replacing it with capitalism it seeks to argue that objectivist values are Christian values.

  6. 6
    Alexander S. Peak says:

    Rand’s opposition to libertarianism is confused and misguided.

    (1) Although there certainly are anarchists within the libertarian movement, and although libertarianism–when promoted consistently necessarily leads to anarchism–not everyone in the libertarian movement is an anarchist.  Only about 10% of us are anarchists.

    (3) Because Rand assumed that, to be a libertarian, you had to be an anarchist, she incorrectly considered herself outside of the libertarian movement.  The fact is, to the contrary, that she was a specific type of libertarian: what we in the movement call a minarchist.

    (4) Rand fundamentally misunderstood anarchism, and it appears she never bothered trying to understand it.  In fact, if she had attempted to understand it, she would have realised that her own pro-government position had some major problems, as R. A. Childs tries to explain to her in a letter she apparently chose to not read.  Should would also have done well to read <i>The Market for Liberty</i> by Linda & Morris Tannehill, which explains how a stateless society could function and thrive.

    (5) She assumed that libertarianism “consistent philosophical base.”  But if there is one thing that unites all libertarians, it is the promotion of the non-aggression axiom.  While there are different schools witin libertarianism, all that divides the minarchist school and the anarchist school is that the anarchists are more consistent in their rejection of aggression.

    The reason she believed that libertarianism was evil was that libertarians did not <i>necessary</i> start with her epistemological base.  Libertarians also drew from a diverse base: left <i>and</i> “right,” SDS members <i>and</i> YAP members, peace activists and drug users <i>as well as</i> tax rebels, <i>etc.</i>  This led her to believe that people come to a libertarian perspective whimsically.  But this is no reason to believe that libertarianism <i>itself</i> is an inconsistent ideology.  The most we can say is that not everyone in the movement is consistently libertarian.  That’s not a problem ultimately with the philosophy but rather with specific individual actors, as an individualist like Rand ought to have recognised.

    (6) Her characterisation of libertarians as “hippies of the right” is horribly misleading.  Libertarianism, properly understood, is a consistently leftist ideology.  Rand herself, regardless of what she might or might not have said to the contrary, should properly be understood as also occupying a space on the far left, although not as far left, of course, as the anarchists.

    To Eclectic Radical,

    Keeping in mind that I am not an Objectivist, I think it important to note that you are wrong about Objectivism in many ways.

    (1) Rand was familiar with the works of Mises and clearly advocated a gold standard, which Monetarists like Friedman reject.

    (2) Objectivism holds no faith in democracy.  While neoconservatism could correctly be described as militantly democratic, to the point of wishing to spread democracy at the point of a gun, Rand saw democracy as mob rule, and I see no indication in her work that she would have ever advocated the neoconservative foreign policy.

    (3) I have never heard an Objectivist label anyone a “sinner.”

    (4) I can neither confirm nor deny that Objectivists would agree with this statement, but I can guarantee it is the libertarian perspective:  We do not have a free market.  We have a statist system that creates an unlevel playing field.  For example, we have a central bank that creates money out of thin air, which helps to line the pockets of big bankers but devalues the purchasing power of the dollar and thus hurts the working and middle classes.  We have government regulations on businesses (e.g. minimum wage) which make it harder for smaller businesses to compete with big business, thus driving small businesses out of the market; this government-created limitation on the number of firms creates an oligopsonising effect on the purchase of labour, which in turn drives down the wages of workers.  Government regulations of all sorts create an unlevel playing field that in turn prevents the invisible hand from distributing resources in the efficient and fair manner that would prevail should we instead adopt a free market.

    Again, this is the libertarian position, and not necessarily the Objectivist position.  Nevertheless, I suspect that the vast majority of Objectivists would agree with the perspective that we do not have a free market.

    (5) Objectivism unequivocably rejects the Republican Party’s social philosophy, and I suspect most Objectivists would say they also reject the Republican Party’s economic philosophy.

    (6) Neoconservatism is primarily an approach to foreign policy, and as such, is not necessarily concerned with Christian values.  It is, however, extremely concerned with (and I would say it has a fanatical dedication to) democratic institutions.

    (7) Monetarism is simply the belief that a money supply should inflate at a steady rate.  Although I find this view flawed insofar as it condones central banking, government inflation, and other government interventions into monetary policy, it hardly compares to the degree of flaw inherent in the view for which Malthus is most famous.

    To nomoreGOP,

    I am glad that you have pointed out that it is all a matter of how you define your terms.

    If you define capitalism as advocacy of our corporatist status quo, and you define socialism as advocacy of the view that the current distribution of resources is based upon something other than injustice and that some form of redistribution can be justified, then both Bush and Obama are capitalists, while I am a socialist.

    Contrariwise, if you define capitalism as advocacy of a purely free market without any statist intervention whatsoever, and you define socialism as government ownership of the means of production, and you define ownership as the power (whether held justly or unjustly) to exert ultimate control over the owned resourse, then not only am I a capitalist under this definition, and not only is Bush and Obama both socialists under this definition, but moreover, under this definition, America is a socialist state, and has been for your entire life.

    So are the Republicans “blatently lying”?  You’re right that people should define their terms, and depending upon how an individual person is defining her/his terms, she/he may be lying or telling the truth.

    Finally, to Fritz,

    Have you any thought on the concept of the tipping point?

    Best regards to all,
    Alex Peak

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