Friday, July 9, 2010

Ayn Rand is No Conservative But May Be the First Slacker

American Glob has posted a Tom Snyder interview with Ayn Rand from the late 1970s. Here are some excerpts:

Objectivism tells you that it is not right, it is not proper to man, to take anything on faith. Religion is a matter of faith. You accept a religion emotionally or because you were born to it, you have not chosen it rationally.

What objectivism will tell is that reason, man’s reason, is his basic means of survival. It is immoral of him to act on his emotions, to be guided by the whim of the moment. Morality in fact consists of following your reason to the best of your ability. Rationality is the basic virtue from which all others proceed.

I feel that this country is being destroyed by its philosophy, specifically by its universities. The most dangerous things in this country today are the universities because they are teaching the kinds of ideas that would necessarily have to lead to the destruction of this country.

I think the American people is too good for that kind of program. You notice that the people are turning to the right. That’s a very healthy sign but there is no leadership on the right, there is no intellectual leadership, there are no ideas. And it’s very possible that people will be defeated for lack of proper intellectual leadership.

I mean a Harvard that would be preaching American ideas, more specifically reason, individualism, capitalism. Even institution of the intellectual prestige, which they don’t deserve today but they deserved it at one time, of Harvard, if an institution of that magnitude were preaching the proper ideas, that is the ideas on which America originally was based. Or to say it briefly, the philosophy of Aristotle, who was the father of this country.

If they were doing that, you could have the biggest renaissance in the world, still not too late even now. You can have a better renaissance than the first one. This country would come back to life.

But today when all those institutions from Harvard on down are preaching collectivism, mysticism, and above all altruism - self-sacrifice of yourself, the giving up, the resignation, all the disgusting kind of ideas that the whole world has been nurturing for centuries. When they do that this country can’t survive.

The ruling philosopher today in Harvard and everywhere else is Immanuel Kant, and that’s the real villain of our age, he’s the one, it’s not Karl Marx and it’s not even religion. I do not approve of religion as you know but those are not the villain.

The villain is Immanuel Kant. He tells you that morally you have to do your duty. What does your duty consist of? He says your duty consists of doing things in which you can take no possible interest and no advantage to yourself. He’s even worse than an altruist. An altruist would tell you that you shouldn’t be happy but you should sacrifice for other people and then you are moral. Kant goes beyond that, he says that if you do things because you have any goal whatever even the welfare of others, your action is not moral.

What will save this country is not its intellectuals but the people, because they’ve rebelled already without much intellectual prodding. That they already are becoming aware of the fact that we have to go to the right and not more welfare state. That’s a great tribute to the intelligence of the people.

I’m not a conservative. I think today’s conservatives are worse than today’s liberals. If anyone destroys this country it will be the conservatives. Because they do not know how to preach capitalism, to explain it to the people, because they do nothing except apologize and because there are all altruists. They are all based on religious altruism, and on that combination of ideas you cannot save the country.
Did Ayn Rand predict in the late 1970s that the policies to come of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush would come close to destroying this country? Why aren't the Democrats on this? She would no doubt have had little use for compassionate conservatism.

And what is her real beef with Kant? He was all for doing the right thing because it was the right thing to do, not for you or for anyone else. Rationality without principles, that's what Ayn Rand's objectivism is really all about. That is a critique of principles.

I, for one, think the best policy is not to put too much stock in anyone who holds themselves out as a philospher, which is essentially just a clever way to live off the public dole. I side with Mel Brooks as espressed in History of the Word, Part I:
Dole Office Clerk: Occupation?

Comicus: Stand-up philosopher.

Dole Office Clerk: What?

Comicus: Stand-up philosopher. I coalesce the vapors of human experience into a viable and meaningful comprehension.

Dole Office Clerk: Oh, a *bullshit* artist!

Comicus: *Grumble*...

Dole Office Clerk: Did you bullshit last week?

Comicus: No.

Dole Office Clerk: Did you *try* to bullshit last week?

Comicus: Yes!
It doesn't really matter whether the person flinging the philosophy is Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Marx, Nietzsche, Rand, or Rawls. It's still just bullshit. Force feed the hemlock!

As for Rand, if she is not a conservative, what is she? You could say libertarian, but she rejected that label too. Neocon comes to mind, she was a refuge from the Soviet Union and that dovetails with the Irving Kristol definition of a neocon as a liberal who has been mugged by reality. But perhaps the most fitting label is slacker.

Not only did Ayn Rand set herself up as a philosopher in the great tradition of bullshit artists, but her work particularly in the novels The Fountain Head and Atlas Shrugged all feature the smart but virtuous hero who withdraws his talents from society.

Yes, the answer to Rand's famous question "Who is John Galt?" can be answered quite simply as the Winona Ryder character in Reality Bites. Slacker.

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