In this particular excerpt from the Christian Libertarian paper I wrote earlier this year, I discuss the notions of the late Ayn Rand an outspoken atheist author and capitalist political philosopher. She has written both fiction and non-fiction books, most notably the fictitious novels called The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Yet she has also written philosophical books concerning the good that comes out of Capitalism, Selfishness, and the “lie” that is Altruism. In this post I will be offering commentary to what I have written about her in my paper as well as discuss points of agreement and disagreement that I have with her. I will confess now however, that my ideological relationship to this philosopher is at best wanting and at worst conflicting. To start this post off I share with you the introductory paragraph to the Ayn Rand and Objectivism section of my paper,
“As an individual growing into the larger Libertarian Philosophy, it was only a matter of time that I would have come across Ayn Rand and her hyper-individualistic, pro-capitalist/materialist worldview. In order for my idea of Christian Libertarianism to finally possess some sort of legitimacy (if it has not possessed it so far), I believe it to be absolutely imperative that Christianity be reconciled with Randian Objectivism. When it comes to Randian Objectivism and her overall philosophy I believe it is important to reconcile with the issue of her rather elitist thinking of the Individual found in especially the book Atlas Shrugged, and I find it also particularly important to deal with the issue of Objectivist Ethics and Christian Morality. While covering the Ethics and Morality, I want to also make a distinction between Selfishness and Self-Interest when it comes to a Christian Libertarian perspective.”
Excerpts From My Christian Libertarian Paper
“So the first issue that I believe we need to deal with is Ayn Rand’s rather Elitist Outlook of the Individual, in particular reference to her book, Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand believes that, if you remove the brightest minds from society, everyone else will be lost, without a benevolent rational leader of some sort; there is no hope for progress and advancement. From a Christian perspective, you might think that I would say that this is pride, or some manifestation of self-aggrandizement, and you would be half-right in thinking this. I say half right because, of the sole reason, that I believe there is more than one expression of intelligence.”
The themes and motifs behind Atlas Shrugged can serve to be both a liberating perspective, yet there is something seemingly elitist behind her thinking. On one hand, it is good to see who in society is productive and who is leeching off the productivity for their own benefit and not contributing back, yet on the other hand the real question comes back to who we define as the productive members of society? From my perspective yes, the entrepreneur is certainly superior to the politicians, yet something needs to be pointed out here, namely that the success of the entrepreneur is only possible by the aid they get from their workers. Now before we go into full-blown socialism, I must confess that I do adhere more so to the Distributist notions of Subsidiarity over Ayn Rand’s notions that the industrialist/CEO is superior figure.
It can also be said that Ayn Rand has become so Atomistic in her outlook about these individuals that she cannot acknowledge the interdependence that allows these individuals to succeed in the first place. Everyone needs everyone else, otherwise the state of society would be at best tribal and at worst lonely. Ayn Rand in her desire to protect capitalism would destroy it because she would refuse to acknowledge the very interdependence present in the division of labor that is needed to make any firm succeed. Also, perhaps this is me but, the way I have come to interpret Ayn Rand is some how that the intelligent people are only those who adhere to one form of intelligence, this form of intelligence is only the Logical-Mathematical type of intelligence who will inherit the earth, however I do not adhere to this notion because I do not believe that there is a One-Size Fits All kind of intelligence but rather there are diverse kinds of intelligences. Ayn Rand in trying to liberate the “productive” members of society has invariably cut herself off from the different ways people can be called productive.
“But what is the view of the Individual then of the Christian Libertarian? Libertarians do seek to maximize the liberty of the individual. Christianity, as I have shown you thus far, desires to seek the maximization of the individual’s potential to transform them from one level to another level of awareness and being, we see that Christianity was supposed to be a Therapy for the Soul, and leading to psycho-spiritual health and wholeness. The blend of course in this regard, is the understanding that no human can ever reach their potential without the freedom of choice in order to learn and the ability to access the resources and opportunities in order to apply what they learned so that they may get there. It shows that all people can realize their potential, and that it’s not only a few who can access it. It is a choice and you make that choice, whether or not to waste your talents and gifts.“
I have spoken elsewhere on Talents, and others have as well. We all have strengths and weaknesses and we all decide to what extent we want to realize them. What Ayn Rand does offer us is the ability to say “I Am John Galt” or “I am the producer!” However, we must be willing to discover our talents, our gifts, and our potentials, to apply them for our own upliftment, and for the upliftment of our neighbor. This of course opens the door to the question of sharing and compassion toward your fellow man, more to the point toward Altruism. According to Ayn Rand and her cynical philosophy such an emotion does not exist, the selfless concern of others does not exist. It would be argued that doing something good for another person will make us feel good and therefore its for this sake of feeling good for ourselves that we do good to others. I disagree, is it so outside Ayn Rand’s perception to think that individuals may think that before performing an altruistic act it would be an inconvenience and thus make them unhappy, only after performing the altruistic act that they would at that time realize how good it made them feel? I am not discussing charity by force, but simply charity out of a desire to help someone even if they would be inconvenienced by giving said aid.
At the time I wrote this paper there was an experiment I took part in called the “paper clip experiment” in it, we had to alone list the many uses of a paper clip, in my case aside from the traditional use I was only able to think of one other use and that was to use it as a fishing hook, however after a minute alone we then shared these with the class and other people listed different uses for the paper clip that I had either forgotten or didn’t know could be used. The point is this, “it comes closer to proving my point first of all that there are different kinds of intelligence, and I know that my strengths lie in theoretical work rather than practical work. It also proves another point that working as a team provides us with more knowledge, power, and insight then if we worked alone. So I ask you, do you think John Galt is really a humble man, who is a victim of his environment who has merely a simple self-interest or is he an arrogant man blinded by his own ability and is filled with selfishness?”
“So according to Ayn Rand, religion is a supreme evil in human society, it is evil because it advocates altruism which to her is advocating ‘that a man, live for others and place others above himself.’ Of course, the believer in altruistic thinking is seen as being worthless because of their own inability to ‘help themselves.’ But Ayn Rands way of thinking is flawed, affected by 100s of years of Religious Misunderstanding. Many Christians today think that, Acts of Charity are enforced; they are a rule, that you must do it. This however is a lie; Christ made it clear to us! At the heart of this issue, is not about whether or not a man helps a stranger, rather it is about feeling compelled to help or desiring to help the stranger.”
I emphasize the point that Acts of Charity are meant to be at their heart spontaneous and voluntary, all forms of giving, all forms of aid and compassion toward our fellow man are meant to be this way. I know that in America today many on the Religious Right would try to legislate morality on people with different lifestyles, but if this legislation only causes conflict when it comes to social issues that we would see as “sinful and vice-filled” can you tell me how much more contempt there would be if we started to force charity from one group to another? Charity, as I have told others, does not stem from an impersonal government program run and maintained by politicians, it has its concern in something personal from average person to average person who have the goodwill and a genuine concern to help those in need. In the Apocryphal Gospel of Thomas it has been attributed to Christ the saying that,
“His disciples asked him and said to him, ‘Do you want us to fast? How should we pray? Should we give to charity? What diet should we observe?’ Jesus said, ‘Don’t lie, and don’t do what you hate, because all things are disclosed before heaven. After all, there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and there is nothing covered up that will remain undisclosed.'” – Saying #6
We see here a very clear insight about helping people, do not do what you hate because when you encounter God and reach the Judgment if all you had was contempt and hate for doing Charitable works what will it profit you anyway, if you did it out of fear of punishment rather then a genuine desire to help your fellow neighbor then it shows the level of spiritual maturity you have on you anyway. And in the book “Christ The Eternal Tao” it has been said that spontaneity is at the heart of the Christian life when the author says,
“Acting in accordance with this nature, one acts in accordance with the Tao. Thus one no longer has to be choosing all the time, but can be wholly spontaneous… One will do what is right, not only without having to think about it, but without even knowing it! … Ultimately, the only law that Christ gave to man was the law of love. Having this law ‘in their inward parts,’ His followers would obey God’s law naturally, spontaneously, without always having to turn to legalistic formulas.” – Pages 235 and 268
The “Heart” I would remind the reader, is in Eastern Christian Mystical Theology more then the physical organ and more than just sentimentality, it is something more, The Heart of Man is the spiritual center of his being, it is the core of his ontology. Anagogically speaking, it is like the subconscious mind that is often discussed in psychoanalysis, the wellspring of our deepest thoughts and feelings, the wellspring of that which evades our conscious perception yet is still a part of our being. Therefore, in having God’s Law in our inward parts, they mean The Heart of Man and insofar as it is a part of us the more we can act in a Charitable manner without feeling like we have to work hard to do so.
“An Act of Charity is an Act of Mercy; An Act of Obligation is an Act of Sacrifice. An act of Sacrificing something, is usually done out of the desire to get something else of higher value, so in the pagan times, any ritual act of sacrifice was done in the hope of appeasing the gods, even for the Jews it was done for the appeasement of a God that they saw as Judgmental and Angry, they made their sacrifices out of fear that if they did not they would lose something important in their life or their life itself, so you see an Act of Obligation is based on Fear. However, Christ comes down to clarify the point, that the One True Universal and Transcendent God is not Judgmental but Loving and that He desires acts of Love and Mercy over acts of Sacrifice. … So remember that a Christian Libertarian does not seek to over-extend, “in an orgy of self-sacrifice” as Ayn Rand put it her novel The Fountainhead, but rather they seek to act on their desire to help others insofar as they are willing and capable of helping that person or persons, the basic rule is to be Just but to moderate that Just way of living with Mercy. Understanding Christianity as I presented it to you so far, the Christian desire to be Merciful does not start the moment you call yourself a Christian, but the moment you become a Christian in your being, in your thoughts and feelings, and your actions.”
When we begin to see that we are no longer obligated, but liberated, Ayn Rand’s philosophy toward and attack on religion and altruism falls flat on its face. As Saint Augustine has said, “Love and Do What Thou Wilt.” The Church is not in full-disagreement with Ayn Rand’s philosophy and critique despite her anti-religious views, no rather the problem here is a focus on emphasis. Upon reading the IgnatiusInsight Blog we read that,
“Rand stresses the non-obligatory nature of charity and, by her reluctance to highlight them, de-emphasizes the goodness of charitable acts. Catholicism, on the other hand, emphasizes the commendability of charitable acts, even as many Catholics may be under the impression that these acts spring from an obligation.”
The Church also agrees with Ayn Rand’s critique of Pro-Government Solutions of Charity when the article goes on to say that, “First, her critique of socialism is largely correct. The basic idea of socialism is taking charitable motives and sentiments and codifying them into law. The goals of socialists and ‘progressives’ can be characterized as taking from the ‘haves’ and giving to the ‘have-nots,’ all in the name of justice.” I reiterate the fact that you cannot legislate high morality on those unwilling to work toward morally higher position. I conclude this section with this last thought on the discussion between Selfishness and Self-Interest,
“Self-Interest then is natural, the desire to have things for yourself is natural, even the Spiritual Man must admit that it is in his self-interest to live a Spiritual Lifestyle for their own Psycho-spiritual Health and Wholeness. The Christian Libertarian must be keenly aware that to want things is part of his nature and not to refuse this fact, the question is what do you want and how much do you want of it? Selfishness is what is unnatural, selfishness is founded in all the vices and passions that we find ourselves exposed to; it is a desiring of wanting more for yourself at another’s expense, whether it is something material like food or immaterial like power. Selfishness is like unnatural hoarding, something even in Libertarian thought we agree is bad for society. Libertarians understand how hoarding can be good (i.e. Saving and production), but make distinctions about how much one will live within their means (i.e. consumption and easy credit). As such a Christian Libertarian ought to make a distinction as well, there is a difference between someone who wants to stockpile food for a practical future use (i.e. Prudence) and someone who refuses to live within their means (i.e. Envy or Greed), in order to worship the god/ “-ism” of Consumerism and vain Materialism.”
Agreements and Divergences
First of all when it comes to my Divergences with Ayn Rand, I will say that her complete foregoing of society for the sake of ambitious men in her novels does not seem as liberating as first thought because there is something rather Machiavellian behind her “ideal man.” All the reverence that we would give either to God (Supernaturalism) or the ideal society (Collectivism) she would direct rather at these cut-throat, Machiavellian men, and I cannot stand up in good conscience to defend the manipulative, opportunistic, and cold ideal man she envisions for society. To me Machiavellianism carries with it a subtle Elitism, and Elitism is rooted in Pride, which I find to be a stumbling block to getting to the truth of things, it is illusory and I cannot defend illusions as the title of this blog would suggest that I seek to differentiate reality from illusions.
Ayn Rand was an atheist and like most atheist make the common mistake of perceiving God as some Supreme Being, like as if God were one object among many whose will is in competition with the human will, rather than complimentary to it. Ayn Rand clearly saw the concept of surrendering to God [or society] as a threat because to her it would be percieved as, “losing their life since they gave up on pursuing their own values in shaping the world by their values.” This however I disagree with because as one author from DesiringGod.Org Critiquing Ayn Rands Ethics goes on to say,
“But if Ayn Rand was wrong about God, if he exists, and, as St. Paul said, ‘made the world and everything in it . . . and is not served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything’, if such a God exists, then a radically new dimension of reality must be reckoned with and a corresponding new value should guide man’s behavior.
The new fact of reality is that God cannot be traded with as a man. There is nothing that man can offer to God that is not already his. You cannot exchange value for value with one from whom you have life, breath, and everything. You must, as a creature, own up to your total dependence on mercy and be content with it or, by an act of irrational rebellion, evict yourself from the realm of reality and try to live a contradiction. In view of the nature of reality, the rational man’s highest value will be the admiration and enjoyment of his Maker and Redeemer….”
I also disagree with her because of her understandings between the Ancient Christian interpretation of how God relates to us and the more modern interpretation of how God relates to us, one blogger discussing the Via Moderna and Via Antiqua goes on to say that,
“The old way said, in the nature of things, justification must involve ‘created habits of grace’ infused within the sinner; God would not be free to justify in any other way (presumably, although McGrath doesn’t elaborate, because it would be dishonestly declaring righteous what was not in fact righteous). The via moderna thought of this as erroneously limiting God’s freedom. Instead they argued this way: God created the world entirely freely, and was free to set up in the world whatever conditions of salvation He desired… Hence in the via moderna the present order of salvation (whatever it was, and thinkers disagreed on the particular means) was radically contingent, depending only on the sovereign will of God. Ockham, for example, was famous for speculating that God might have become incarnate as a stone, a block of wood, or even a donkey.”
Essentially, the Old Way / The Ancient Way tells us that God is not some arbitrary being who does what He pleases, such an image would imply that God has needs, that he is not complete unto Himself until these needs are satisfied. The New Way / The Modern Way, sees God however as an arbitrary being whose will is in some ways competing with everything else in the world. However, I submit that the notion of God’s Will and Nature does NOT compete with the Human Will and Nature by simply looking at the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, both when Mary Conceives Christ, as the Bush That Is On Fire Yet Is Not Consumed that is witnessed by Moses, as well as The Life of Christ Himself who does the will of the one who sent him and is with him always. Therefore, Ayn Rand might be right about her view if God was rightly perceived as arbitrary and capricious in the Via Moderna perspective. However, she is dead wrong if God is rightly perceived in the Via Antiqua point of view, as I believe the One True God ought to be perceived.
Yet simultaneously I can agree with Ayn Rand that for each individual in society as a “least common denominator” should be willing to adhere to some of the Virtues that Ayn Rand espoused from her own Objectivist philosophy, namely: Independence (making one’s own judgments), Integrity (practicing what you preach), Honesty (maintaining a freedom from contradiction between your words and your convictions), and Productivity (the ambitious struggle to achieve your values). Did not Christ also tell us to think for ourselves as well as Paul writing to the Corinthians? However even here, her Objectivist Virtue of Pride and Justice is omitted. An article from ValuesAndCapitalism.Com that attempted to also bring about reconciliation between Rand and Christ goes on to say that,
“However, most modern fans of Rand are not, nor do they claim to be, Objectivists. They are fans of her political philosophy, not necessarily the entire Objectivist ideal. Specifically, most Rand fans take away a few key insights: individualism is preferable to collectivism, success should not be punished nor failure rewarded, equality is a dangerous and unachievable goal, wealth is not inherently bad, and government can’t make everything better. None of these insights are antithetical to Christianity.”
As a Christian myself, although I find Pride to be a capital sin, I can still interpret Ayn Rands Virtue of Pride in a manner that I can find empowering for me as well, namely in the context that no one owes me anything, that mercy and charity is at the end of the day a GIFT rather then an expectation. As the article from ValuesAndCapitalism.Com goes on to say,
“Genuine acts of kindness are not motivated by guilt, fear, or shame. Yet modern religion is saturated with guilty consciences. Fear of sinning, guilt over your station in life, shame about your dreams and desires are commonplace in churches. These feelings are played like instruments by power-seeking ministers, activists, and politicians. The Kingdom of God brings freedom from this condemnation. Anytime you hear a pundit trying to motivate religious people by making them feel guilty, remember that you cannot truly give if you do not freely give. You do not owe anyone anything, but you are free to give everything.”
In light of this attempted reconciliation between Randian Objectivism and Christian Morality I believe they can create a better world. A world that would both value Independence and Productivity over the dependence and parasitism that government encourages, while giving Voluntary Mercy and Charity to those who actually need the help when they cannot help themselves. Said charity and mercy would be in abundance due to the wealth and prosperity that would be generated in a free and open society that no longer has parasitic institutions that survive on force.