2010/09/09 – A Monograph in Defense of Equality Part 6

Ayn Rand: Equality and the Destruction of the Exceptional Man

There exists in the works of Ayn Rand (1905-1982) a running opinion she weaves in her best known novels about the exceptional man (usually some sort of capitalist or intellectual genius) who must contend against the pettiness, cowardice or stupidity of others who would annihilate her hero by dragging him down into depths of mind-numbing mediocrity. This stance informed Rand’s opposition to egalitarianism, which was profound and absolute. Equality was for her the end of reason and civilization, and those who advocated equality were hateful, self-loathing demons hell – bent for nothing less than the destruction of existence!

“They do not want to own your fortune, they want you to lose it; they do not want to succeed, they want you to fail; they do not want to live, they want you  to die; they desire nothing, they hate existence, and they keep running, each trying not to learn that the object of his hatred is himself . . . . They are the essence of evil, they, those anti-living objects who seek, by devouring the world, to fill the selfless zero of their soul. It is not your wealth that they’re after. Theirs is a conspiracy against the mind, which means: against life and man.” [1]

Ayn Rand developed her philosophical “theory of everything” as “Objectivism,” which was for her a philosophy extolling the genius of consciousness and rational self – interest.  Her outlook was Aristotelian in essence, as Rand shared Aristotle’s opinion of the existence of only “one” dimension of reality that could be rationally explained. Rand defines man as a rational animal possessing an individual consciousness and identity. Through the use of reason this rational animal is able to perceive “identity,” “ethics,” “purpose,” “value” and “morality.” Now, all of this seems rather elementary and prosaic, but when it comes to survival and capitalism, Rand makes several shocking claims.

In terms of survival, Man is the ends that justifies itself (according to Rand). Is there room for Cooperating with others? Only if your self-interest is served by doing so. Altruism? Out of the question. Man must figure it out on his own and exist for himself in attaining his goals as the pursuit of “happiness” a point which Rand seemingly lifted from the Utilitarian thesis of the 19th century liberal John Stuart Mill. Mill, however, claimed that it was in man’s best interest to bring the greatest amount of happiness to the greatest amount of people. Rand’s version of her classical liberalism kept close to the principle: government must be constrained and only exist to protect man’s “freedom” from physical force (from the community?) This idea holds a deep suspicion, fear and enmity against the collective and the government which informs much of Rand’s works.

In terms of capitalism, Rand  claims a moral justification in line with the “rational nature” of man. She might have also meant the “rational nature of man’s consciousness,” since for Rand, the mind is the source for all rationality ad meaning. Rand often claimed that Capitalism is the system most reflective of this rational principle, as it was for her the only moral system available that could provide personal liberty to the individual.

A world that enforces Equality is perhaps the worse hell imaginable from a Randian perspective, for there is a deep desire within the neoliberal who succeeds at the game of survival, to be justly rewarded for his efforts. He is further justified in feeling superior by watching the struggles and death throes of his perceived inferiors since they must be punished for not playing the game effectively. It is only through the lens of Objectivism that Equality is seen as punishing the best and brightest (which is ridiculous, of course).

Rand certainly shared this view, as you can see in the quote at the top of this blog. Her influence among the libertarians and neoliberals remain unabated, ensuring a legion of internet objectivists who then copy and paste her findings for new generations to come.

There seems to be a qualification with the word “equality” when applied in different contexts. Nobody seems to have a problem with Equality  as – Equal Rights – under the law, although there seems to be the issue whether that form of Equality is determined more by money than any abiding, ethical principle. When it comes to money – which is apparently the value that neoliberals have placed with effort, intelligence and vision. There can be no quarter given, because it would be “unfair” to the ones who have prospered to share. They don’t see it as society being raised up to an equal starting point where everyone can be truly enjoy the “liberty” to contribute more fully… they see it as a catastrophe in which they – the exceptional, the special and the best of us, will be tied down to a torture rack of mediocrity. A hellish world where the first will be the last. The horror!

These childish, tortured fantasies and excuses can only exist in order to justify inequality, which is pitifully obvious, since most libertarians and neoliberals make no bones about how they feel on the subject. Protest as they may, they can’t overcome the common sense end result of a society liberated from  the specter of scarcity, needs and want – which would produce more exceptional people for society. Man is capable of designing a better world where equal rights extend to basic human needs being met. No one is saying that those who work harder than others won’t be allowed to “have more” if they work for it. It’s the current system which rewards exploitation – which in itself is a chief feature of Capitalism and at the same time, and which serves as a socially repressive, anti-liberty, anti-democratic and stateless force that runs counter to the basic premise of Rand’s moral rationalism; that “force” is not allowed to be used against another. It then turns out that Capitalism is the true destroyer of human value! Money is revealed to be a titanic, sizeless club that savagely beats everyone into submission, forcing their participation under pain of death. Is Capitalism really a “rational” jewel in the crown of human consciousness as Ayn Rand claims? Or is it a discredited, abusive system that common sense demands we drop and leave behind? An Equal Money system will not diminish the amount of the exceptional hero that was Ayn Rand’s ideal. It will produce so many more exceptionals, that the meaning of the word will be lost when everyone will be exceptional.


[1] Ayn Rand, “Galt’s Speech,” For the New Intellectual, the Philosophy of Ayn Rand. Signet Books. 1963

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