Skip to comments.Tea Party Should Shrug Off Atlas
Posted on 03/09/2010 4:51:09 AM PST by Walter Scott Hudson
Tea Partiers should be wary of the ideology underlying a novel popular within the movement. Signs reading Who is John Galt? became a common sight at rallies last year. They reference Atlas Shrugged, a novel by Objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand, which is considered an affirmation of individual rights and the free market. However, according to a central advocate of Rands worldview, there is a deeper message within the novel which the Tea Party must embrace if it hopes to affect libertarian change.
On February 23rd, in a lecture hall at the University of Minnesota, Rand advocate Craig Biddle, editor of The Objective Standard and author of Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It, delivered a presentation entitled Capitalism: The Only Moral Social System. Biddle argued capitalism is the only system which recognizes the requirements for human life. Those requirements, according to the Objectivist philosophy Biddle advocates, are productivity and rational thought.
To illustrate this, Biddle offered the hypothetical situation of a man deserted on a remote island. In order to survive, the castaway would need food, shelter, and clothing. In order to obtain those provisions, the castaway would need to act productively, to take action based on his own judgment to meet his needs. The only thing which could prevent the castaway from acting on his own judgment would be externally applied force, which Biddle represented with a hypothetical brute likewise stranded on the island. If the brute tied the castaway to a tree, or demanded all or part of the castaways production in tribute, the castaway would not be free to act on his own judgment.
To this point, the arguments of Objectivism fit neatly with those prevalent in the Tea Party movement. Both hold the protection of individual rights to be the legitimate role of government. However, Biddle claimed this similarity is not enough. Asked during a question and answer session how the Tea Party might effectively advocate for capitalism, Biddle prescribed a shift in morality. The altruism promoted in the Judeo-Christian ethic is antithetical to the egoism inherent to capitalism, Biddle said.
It is crucial to note, by altruism, Biddle does not mean mere charity. By altruism, Biddle means living for the other in a sacrificial manner. Sacrifice for the collective good is the rallying call of the tyrant, Biddle said, citing examples in the rhetoric of Hitler among others. He claimed, as long as Tea Partiers keep going to church on Sunday, their morality will remain in conflict with their political objectives. This sentiment, acknowledged by Biddle as controversial, is indicative of a larger hostility in Objectivism toward religion.
Expounding upon this, a commenter responding to a New Patriot Journal report of the lecture wrote:
Objectivism holds that knowledge is contextual. It is limited to that which can be derived directly or indirectly from the evidence of perceptions. Beyond that, it allows only for the possible and the probable for which there are degrees if some but insufficient evidence. It does not allow notions for which there is no evidence or those that contradict themselves or contradict existing evidence to be regarded as knowledge.
Therein lies the limitation of Objectivism, which it shares with science. Reality is not limited to that which can be physically perceived. To declare otherwise is analogous to a society of blind men precluding the existence of light. The condescending disdain for mysticism, which Objectivism seems to foster in its adherents, seems to preclude the existence of anything which is not already known. This seems as foolhardy as when the religious sometimes deny the obvious in preference of a previously interpreted revelation (i.e. there were no dinosaurs).
It is not true that anything supernatural, such as God, cannot exist because there is no contextual evidence. To the contrary, it would be irrational to assume a Cause of Nature would be itself natural. Revealed knowledge may be outside the scope of Objectivism. But there is no natural law which requires reality to conform to an Objectivist paradigm. To the contrary, nature suggests causal relationships. For every effect, there is a cause. This suggests a Cause of Nature, which would be necessarily supernatural. The Creator could not be part of Creation, and therefore not bound by the laws which govern Creation.
A second point worth considering is derived from John Lockes property acquisition theory, which Biddle evoked as consistent with Objectivism. Locke argued property is created by the infusion of an individuals thought and effort into raw materials. For instance, if a potter takes some clay and forms it into a pot, he owns that pot. This raises a question which Objectivism ignores. If a pot belongs to a potter, to whom does the clay belong? Who created the potter? Objectivism ignores these questions because they require speculation beyond the boundaries of the philosophy. That is to be expected. Math likewise avoids questions beyond the scope of numbers. Yet, again, there is no reason to conclude all which is knowable must be perceived through a single limited discipline. Were a mathematician to claim there is no such thing as beauty because he cannot define it with an equation, he would be rightly regarded as ill.
Objectivism seems to perceive the Judeo-Christian ethic based on its own presumptions rather than the testimony of believers. Why do those among the Tea Party movement who profess religion see no conflict between their religious call to altruism and their civil promotion of liberty and capitalism? The answer is because the matter of whether a man should sacrifice for others is wholly separate from whether he ought to be forced. Indeed, the ultimate value of freedom is the capacity to give meaningfully, to serve whom one chooses.
Trying to force a wedge into a perceived “crack” is a waste of time.
I thought it was about conservative change, silly me.
“Trying to force a wedge into a perceived crack is a waste of time.”
Could you explain what you mean? I am not sure why people who value Tea Party rallies would be so consumed by Ayn Rand. I recall she was an atheist. The founding fathers were not libertarians to my mind, they were republicans.
The Tea Party is good for one reason and one reason only. To beat back those who wish to abolish liberty! This is one of just a few things conservatives, libertarians, independents, and a some specious democrats can agree on.
In a free society, folks are free to embrace any religion as they see fit, so liberty is perfectly compatible with Judeo-Christian culture. A libertarian Christian is free to worship as he chooses; likewise with a libertarian Hindu, so long as neither forces the other to close his business on another person’s holy day.
Christianity and Atlas are not incompatible. The Biblical ethic has never endorsed thievry either from the church or state. No where did Jesus suggest that one should confiscate the wealth of others for the common good. Charity is always a matter of conscience of the individual in Christianity. It is true that many religious people as do many non religious people warp the idea of Christian charity as the justification for any and every largess of the state. I may suggest though that it is no accident when socialist and communist regiems rise they see as a clear enemy the church.
The problem with trying to drive a wedge between the altruistic nature of Judeo-Christian charity, objectivity and production is this...
If it is in the objective decision of a producer to award a portion of his production to a religious organization or charity he has done so of his own free will and accord. There has been no implied or directed pressure to do so.
This is in sharp contrast to the moochers and looters in Atlas Shrugged who preyed upon the willingness of the victim to subvert his production through guilt or taxation. At no point in that book was religion brought up.
I took that to mean that religion was separate from either since participation in it wasn’t coerced by implied moral societal stigma or implied government/legal action.
This is one of those examples where I see the problems with the Atlas Shrugged society and the Rayndians in general. Any dissension is immediate cause of banishment from the group.
Personally, I believe the Tea Party should be embracing the economic principles of Milton Friedman, especially “Capitalism and Freedom” along with “Free to Choose”.
Spot on. I plan on going “Gault” as soon as I can.
The problem, of course, with Objectivism is that it assumes virtue in the productive man. This was Rand’s capital mistake.
Christianity assumes Man is Fallen, and provides Restraint. Without quite meaning to, Rand falls into the trap that Nietzche fell into: the unaccountable Superman bound only by his own conscience and the clauses of Contract and free trade.
The real world, unfortunately, is filled with Gordon Gekkos. Christ recognized this. Rand was writing in a period in which 20th Century Progressivism was eclipsing Victorian Positivism and Nietzche was all the rage.
Objectivism is just another ideology for Supermen, but it’s one great strength is that it recognizes the virtue of free will and capitalism as virtues, not vices. Christianity’s strength is that it’s law’s recognize man’s fallen nature.
Objectivists don’t get this.
This guy is right on the money. Be an Objectivist/Randian, or be a Christian / "Religious person".
But don't pretend to be both at the same time. That's just having it both ways. I know some "Objectivist" Christians and they have an impossibly arrogant habit of inviting themselves into other people's business and making decisions "for their own good" but not lifting a finger toward the decisions that they themselves make, creating nothing but conflict.
Objectivism is nothing more than an apology for pure, arrogant, and self-interested heartlessness.
Could say more about myself but I better not.
Your post was very helpful and gives me some ideas for future reading.
Religion was brought up in the book. Who do you think Rand was referring to with the term, “mystics of the spirit”?
Atlas already shrugged.
Now Wang, owns all the factories.
Soon Wang will also have all the money. And all the jobs.
I have a quibble (perhaps more than a quibble). "Tea" stands for Taxed Enough Already. I see the Tea party movement as an effort to control taxes, control spending, and shrink the size of government. The end result would be more Liberty. But the implementation is through reducing government revenue.
My biggest bone of contention with (some) Libertarians is that they seem to make "maximizing my personal Liberty" the first and most important goal. Secondarily, they have (some) interest in shrinking the government's budget.
I think that we need to control government spending as the first task, and then focus on Liberty. I think that's the only way it will work.
Very few people take a philosophy (like objectivism) and follow it to the letter. There is a great deal about objectivism that is perfectly compatible with “limited government” type conservatives and even religious conservatives. People of various beliefs, ideologies and philosophical foundations can (and do) unify where their is overlap.
Where the various groups of the left unify around increasing government control over people, WE unify around freedom from the government and the collective. That is what you see in these “tea parties”, the unification of the myriad of freedom seeking people into a movement that is heading in the same general direction.
We are focused on a common enemy and it will remain that way until the enemy (forced collectivism) is ultimately driven into the ground. There will be plenty of time to debate the nuances of our beliefs AFTER we crush the collectivists, but until then, it is absolutely pointless to do anything other than cheer each other on.
If forced collectivism is what you oppose, how do you feel about the largest communist nation in the history of earth, now controlling what used to be our manufacturing base?
Wake up people. This is not some theoretical game.
America is collapsing.
I thought it was about conservative change, silly me.
That was my first thought too!
How about taking back at least one chamber of Congress before you start “purging” the movement of people you don’t fully agree with. Socialism is the main enemy right now. Sheesh.
I think it should be obvious how I “feel” about that, but Im more concerned with getting out from under the thumb of OUR tyrants than anything else. Nothing is going to change until we free ourselves.
Its kinda like the stewardess advises... You should put YOUR mask on before attempting to help anyone else. ;^)
Not sure if that's directed that at Biddle or me. It's clearly Objectivism which aims to do the purging. The rest of us can easily tolerate Objectivists and welcome their inclusion in the movement. Biddle, by his own words, sees a shift in our morality as a prerequisite for political change. So your comment would be best directed toward him.
Rand got collectivist/statist leaders dead to rights, but I found her case for her particular brand of individualism to be weak. Her justification for selfishness seems to be based on its salutary effect on society, but why would a truly selfish person care about society? An individual can thrive while society rots, even profit from it. Enlightened self interest is a weak argument.
Libertarian as in the opposite of authoritarian, which is a far more important distinction than the modern conservative/liberal paradigm.
This essay seems almost an insidious attempt to splinter the Tea Party movement into factions of religious conservatives versus more secular fiscal conservatives.
The movement has largely been a reaction to the Obama agenda, based primarily on fiscal matters, and national security, not social conservative issues. On the other hand, I have not witnessed any of the Tea Party organizers rejecting the participation of social or religious conservatives.
So why do an essay trying to divide them into camps?
Because he still has to live in it - and can take a bullet to the head from the Morlocks just as easily as any altruist can. It is in the selfish person's rational self-interest to help build a society that avoids creating Morlocks, even if a few would-be Eloi are temporarily inconvenienced. :)
Agreed. Our government has become the enemy of freedom, and this is NOT just a democrat phenomenon.
"Divide and conquer" is the SOP of the left.
“At no point in that book was religion brought up.”
It not’s part of the plot in any way, but Galt does mention it, quite prominently, in his speech, particularly the idea of “the sinful nature” as taught in most versions of Christianity.
This article however, does not address Atlas or Rand’s teachings, but the interpretation of those I call OINO’s, Objectivists In Name Only. They are rabid Christian haters, and have completely twisted Rand’s views, and they are very dangerous.
Three of my articles explaining:
If you have an interest in Rand, or what goes by the name “Objectivism” today, or religion, for that matter, I think you will find them interesting.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
We need all the friends we can get.
Ironically America in the early 21st century, is starting to seem just a bit like the Republic of China in the early 20th century.
China was (compared with now) a free country. Governed by the KuoMinTang (KMT). Almost the GOP of the day, in China.
Up until, that day Japan went on their nation-collecting spree around greater East Asia - and overran Nanjing. Leading to Americans and Chinese fighting (together) against Imperial Japan, cooperating in such amazing efforts as the Flying Tigers.
Those days the common enemy was Japan. But while America and the Republic of China fought together against that common foe: The CCP fought ... the KMT.
On one level this would seem to be, like the “Galt” idea of opposing the left here by sending our jobs to China and elsewhere - but the problem with that is that unlike the CCP, the American right seems completely unconcerned with jobs and factories. That is the crucual difference.
Those two things jobs and factories, mean political SUPPORT.
The Communist Chinese understood what the Randians don’t. Jobs matter to people, and the means of production are important. So while the GOP and “free traders” are busy eliminating jobs, they more than anything else — are eliminating their own power base. Unlike the CCP, which gained support by (at least in words) supported working Chinese.
But back to the parallels between China then, and America now:
To the CCP it did not matter that China was occupied by foreign invaders, it mattered to oppose the KMT. While the KMT was fighting the Japanese, the CCP was fighting the KMT. The KMT was fighting on two fronts. That strategy worked rather spectacularly. The KMT was forced to flee to Formosa.
The GOP is sort of like the KMT. While George Bush was fighting on behalf of America’s interests - the left was fighting George Bush.
And democrats are more like the CCP, than even they care to admit.
Already they have forced the GOP out, and onto a political Formosa. Atlas has already shrugged. Game over, unless this “Going Galt” nonsense is stopped - and at some point the adults start once again looking out for America first.
And they’re “flight attendants” these days, you know... ;)
It's also quite a stretch to jump from voluntary altruism to forced altruism based on religious grounds.
Consider this: Jesus asked us all to take care of the poor, to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, etc. Jesus never said: "And please take money from your neighbor forcibly and use that for the poor as well."
Those who make the argument that Jesus would want the government to tax people at high rates in order to redistribute wealth (the "Jesus was a communist" crowd) are on vanishingly thin ice.
“Because he still has to live in it”
Tyrants and thieves can and often do thrive. The world is big and can stand a lot of ruining without negatively affecting them during their lifetimes. Mugabe, Castro, Kim Jong-Il, et al seem to be doing quite well for their selfish selves, thank you.
Really, Rand’s worldview cannot be justified without an unexamined and unexplained caring about the fate of society. That, and her system of morality which she seems to claim is simultaneously axiomatic and based purely on reason, makes her trashing of religion rather unreasonable.
The best basis and justification for individualism is Biblical. Without it, it’s a house without foundation, easily collapsed.
“if it hopes to affect libertarian change.”
No thank you.
From the article: whether a man should sacrifice for others is wholly separate from whether he ought to be forced.
When liberty begets prosperity, as it always does, charity follows. Charity fills the vacume that statists seek to fill.
Wrong. It assumes men are greedy and will work for their own rational best interest. That those who act unethically will either be starved out or killed outright for their crimes.
Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Paine. Patrick Henry...
Whatever helps you sleep better at night.
How about neo-libertarian change? ;-)
"Forced altruism" is just another way of saying theft. And on this issue, I agree strongly with Rand.
If I could find a group of (L)ibertarians that didn’t want to legalize dope, that wanted to protect our nation, that were NOT protectionists, that were pro-life personally and in policy, that stood for getting the government OUT of the marriage business altogether....Well that would be just about the best group of political thinkers I’d ever met. I THINK those people can be found if the GOP would adopt some of the Libertarian policies and if the Libertarian party would tell the potheads and liberals to GTFO. A melding of the two parties could be a force for good. But just a straight Libertarian movement based on what that party has become today? I’d rather not.
But I think drug legalization makes the order clear -- If you legalize first, society is likely to see an enormous burden of people using social services. That expands the budget (not what we want). On the other hand, if you remove the taxpayer funded social services first, then legalize the drugs, there will be no reason for the budget to expand as a consequence.
When possible, move in parallel, when one part needs to go first, make it the "shrink the government" part rather than the "expand my liberties" part.
Will this be the new purity litmus test for tea partiers? If you like some of the ideas of an atheist, you're out?
Really, this is grasping at straws. I realize a lot of Freepers who purport to be Christians don't like Rand, but we're not emulating her life here, we're taking note of the very sensible parts of her philosophy. Capitalism foremost of them all.
Interesting. I can see your point. When gov't takes and spends such a large amount of my personal earnings, and even to the point of spending future earnings this is definitely restricting everyone's liberty.
Obama has taken advantage of our free and open economy and is trying to systematically destroy it! He has to be stopped!
You're perception is incorrect. I am, in fact, responding to an assertion which could underlie such an attempt, not making the attempt. Biddle initiated the claim the Tea Party movement needs to shift its morality from the common Judeo-Christian ethic to an Objectivist ethic. I am quite content to include Objectivists in the fold. It is Biddle's prescription was excludes, not my response.
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