Monday, July 8, 2013

Ayn Rand's Objectivism Explained by Her Student, Colleague, Lover, and Self-Esteem Guru

Have you read Atlas Shrugged? Do you know the answer to the question, "Who is John Galt?" Did you ever wonder about the connection between Alan Greenspan, the Wall Street Journal, and Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism? Are you suspicious of Big Government? Assuming you aspire to become the best possible version of yourself, do you know how to tell whether you are on the right path? Are you willing and able to help or correct someone who has fallen off their path?

If the answer to any of the above questions is "Yes," you're in luck: today's post is for you. Below are excerpts from the May, 2011 Daily Bell interview * with Nathaniel Branden, a pioneer in the psychology of self-esteem and one of Ayn Rand's primary proponents.

In the excerpt below, I added the emphasis to build discussion points. As you read the excerpt, please prepare to engage in the two discussion questions at the end. 


Daily Bell: Do you feel Atlas Shrugged is Rand's greatest work?

Nathaniel Branden: Of course I do. I think it's the work of a genius on a very high level. It is an international best seller and is the most global treatment of her philosophy, which tells the story of what happens to the world when the people of ability go on strike against a sort of statist-collectivist world.

[Note: Atlas Shrugged was Rand's fourth book, final fictional novel, and most famous treatise As a young architecture student, I preferred The Fountainhead. However, I read Atlas Shrugged as an adult philosophy student and found it much more compelling.]  

This portrait of Rand was used in a US Postage Stamp

Daily Bell: Can you sum up [Ayn Rand's] philosophy and its antecedents?

Nathaniel Branden: Reason is the highest possible value, given the condition of all truth. Reason is our only means of acquiring knowledge. Reason is the foundation of ethics knowing that individuals require a code of ethics. Individuals have a right to exist and they have a right to protect values, to protect equal liberty. Her philosophy is more complex than we can discuss right now, but I would have to say she was first a champion for the supremacy of reason, then for the argument of code of ethics, on human nature which would respect the human's right to belong to him or her own self. Her thoughts were you must own your own life, and to respect your own needs, and not to see the self as a servant of society or the state or the globe or planet.

Portrait of Branden

Daily Bell: What is the most important of [Ayn Rand's] ideas in your opinion?

Nathaniel Brandon: That human beings have a right to exist. They have a right to freedom. [People] do not belong to the government. These are all very liberating statements and that is the main message from her work. She also raises very important questions that are foundational. She asks, Why do we need ethics?? That is key because you have to come to that conclusion for yourself. Life on all levels is full of challenges, and you are not born with the knowledge of what is best. You need to look at principals and how they relate to all parts of your life because without it you are susceptible to people with very vicious ideas.

[Note: what is the relationship between values, morals, beliefs, laws, ethics, and behavior?]

Daily Bell: Explain why rational self-interest vs altruism is so important.

Nathaniel Branden: You have to understand what altruism is and needs. The term was coined in the 19th century by Auguste Comte, and it means "others above self." Altruism is to sacrifice and means insubordination of the individuals for the group, it meant it was morality superior in virtue of the fact that their primary goal was to service the state or the monarchy or the union or god knows what.

You will find it with Stalin, you will find it in any number of dictators and if you want power over people, it's a very useful concept to have. A lot of intellectuals who live in the world are surprisingly on the side of the "others" in this negative sense. I think they had this sneaking idea that it would work because they would be on the side of the good guys. It's the opposite of egoism.

You feel a moral obligation to live for the sake of others. Rational self-interest holds reason, purpose and self-esteem as supreme. You have a responsibility to yourself first to survive. To remain alive you must act and before you can act you must know the nature, and purpose of your actions. If you are living for others and not putting yourself first, that is altruism. Ayn did not use negative connotations, which are usually used for selfishness or self-interest.


And now, for those of you so inclined, the discussion: Branden tells us Rand valued rational-self interest as a guiding principle for a secular ethical code. She points out that there are people in the world with vicious ideas, and therefore one must examine the nature and purpose of one's own actions as well as those of other people, in order to survive and thrive. 

Question 1. The art of constructive criticism is nearly a lost art. People no longer offer or accept constructive criticism. We feel it is not our place or our right to critique others, and we are easily offended when someone else tries to critique us. Describe the future of a society in which everything is acceptable and nothing is incorrect or forbidden. 

Question 2. How can anyone (take Paul Ryan, for a famous example) claim to be both a Christian and an Objectivist? Are not the principles of love for others and love for self in direct opposition? To what degree are Christianity and Objectivism aligned? Or are they in fact mutually exclusive? Suppose a person living in community recognizes a Creator. It's rational for the Creator to appear on the top of any hierarchy. But who comes next, the individual, or the other people? 

Thank you for reading and thinking. If you care to engage, please use the comments section or email me to share your answers.

* The Daily Bell is a leading free-market publication and thought leader documenting the rapidly changing political and economic landscape during what they call the Internet Reformation. They regularly scrutinize dominant social themes – fear-based memes purveyed by the power elite intended to frighten people into giving up power and wealth to globalist facilities. More: