Sunday, May 1, 2011

Why Ayn Rand's philosophy is stupid and evil

This video with clips of Republi-cons praising Ayn Rand, and then a positively Hitlerian turn by Rand herself raises the question: What's wrong with Rand?

Rand views all relationships in a black and white way: either altruistic or selfish. Altruistic is stupid, selfish virtuous. Relationships are trades, like buying a cabbage: I give you this, you give me that. If we are both happy with the trading we keep the relationship, as soon as either of us is not happy, we break it.

What is stupid about her philosophy is that it leaves out risk and uncertainty, and forgets about trust. We enter into longer-term relationships, whether employment or marriage, because we think that in the longer term, we, and the other person will benefit. But we don't know. We're taking a risk. And when we're asked to do something for the other person, we don't know if we are going to get support in return. It's a risk. It's not buying a cabbage. That's why the character of the other person, and trust are critical. In fact, trust is at the heart of cooperative relationships, and both marriages and economies fall apart without out it. That's because when and how much to do short term sacrifice are critical issues. When suspicion and hostility arise, and trust dissolves, then people won't enter a cooperative venture.

This is not only true in personal relationships, but in economic ones. We just saw the economy freeze up in 2008 because of the collapse of trust. Credit was no good and nobody was willing to lend. And the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression followed. To keep up trust we need both strong regulation and a sense of moral duty on the part of those with fiduciary responsibilities. Both collapsed years before the financial collapse, and partly because of those, like Greenspan, who adopted the stupid philosophy of Ayn Rand. And that's why her philosophy is not just stupid in being blind to risk and trust, but also evil. It undermines both financial discipline and cooperation for the common good. There's more evil as well, but that's enough.


  1. I just started reading the Fountainhead over Thanksgiving weekend so I can join the discussion. I will get back to you in about 697 pages of really small type -- which at my reading pace is about 2 years. (So my take so far is Rand is just too wordy).

  2. Well, I've never read that. For a brief essay on what I was critiquing, read the The Virtue of Selfishiness.