18 April 2011


Ayn Rand's radical elitism has her character John Galt, in Atlas Shrugged, say about the proposed strike by the "creators of the world," that it would be a "stopping the motor of the world" (thus the "Atlas shrug" of the title). This is pure juvenility. As Austrian economist and admirer Ludwig von Mises approvingly told her, "You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you [the masses] are inferior and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the efforts of men who are better than you" (my emphases). I think we would all be in trouble if any number of segments of society went on strike, and possibly least of all some of the elite classes. 

But, this is all very silly to even consider. Rand's fictional, elite industrialists are free to practice ethical egoism and lead humankind into an individualist, libertarian utopia. It is an extreme, radical elitist stance, because, it seems to me, that society depends on all segments working together (of course, Rand apparently did not believe in "society"). The Randian position would be to get rid of even Social Security and Medicare (even though she accepted the latter late in life when she was dying of cancer). 

I understand Jewish Ayn Rand (pseudonym) experienced injustices in totalitarian USSR before emigrating to the U.S., but she must have read dime novels about the myth of the rugged, individualist American cowboy. If true (at least absorbing the myth of American individualism), then she was not the first to visit the new country and fall for a supposed radical freedom and individualism of the American Frontier and West, where, in fact, altruism was critical. As historian Bernard De Voto said, "The only true individualists in the West wound up on the end of a rope whose other end was in the hands of a bunch of cooperators."

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