Egoism vs Altruism

The current political atmosphere has brought about a renewal in the interest of the works of Ayn Rand. The Russian-American novelist has once again been thrust into the limelight for a new generation of readers and political thinkers. Her ideas have been lauded in the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, and like many things these days, has had her ideas bent to meet certain political agendas. Much like Lenin used the ideas of Marx and Engels, the political right has used Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead to push for their version of what America should be.

The specific quote by Ayn Rand which states, “The proper method of judging when or whether one should help another person is by reference to one’s own rational self-interest and one’s own hierarchy of values: the time, money, or effort one gives or the risks one takes should be proportionate to the value of the person in relation to one’s own happiness,” is striking similar to the “father of modern economics” Adam Smith’s philosophy put forth in Wealth of Nations, but set in philosophical thought rather than an economic one.

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Stated simply, they say this; that one’s actions should be based on how much happiness (economic gain) that they bring to that particular person. Rand’s early life experiences during the Bolshevik Revolution clearly cemented her political and economic philosophy towards Communism, and by its stark contrast, Capitalism. It is no wonder, with her dislike of Communism and support strict Capitalism, that she has become a rallying point of the political right.

While I agree that Ayn Rand’s philosophy belongs on the right side of the aisle, so to speak, I believe that all the calls for John Gault are premature, and people are cherry picking certain ideas that Rand put forth without looking at the whole picture. The problem with this is that Rand’s philosophy held that reason should be used to make decisions without regard for religion and faith. This does not mean that religion and faith can be discounted in making decisions.

There is much that can be considered from Rand’s novels and ideas, though anyone who has read Atlas Shrugged knows that CEO’s are portrayed in the best light possible while religious figures and those who believe in a more government friendly stance are vilified. There is no middle ground or room for compromise. You are either for economic growth and improving your position in life (and therefore everyone around you), or you are a person who just wants everyone to be on equal footing, even if it requires underhanded means to do so. I agree that religion itself does not usually have a place in economics in general, but in government it does.

I believe that a country and its government are best judged by how it cares for its poor, disabled and downtrodden. If Ayn Rand has a problem with caring for the needy, those who actually need help and not taking advantage of the system, she does not specifically address this in her novels. If she has a problem with those religious communities who genuinely receive happiness from helping those less fortunate than themselves, she does not address it. What she does address is corruption in these organizations which transforms what should be used for its original purpose, love, into something used for selfish gains.

I doubt many people would disagree with her on this point. What Rand would abhor currently is the large bailouts for the auto, insurance and financial industries that recently took place; without which, according to many economists, would have thrown the U. S. into a depression worse than we saw in the early 20th century. While I believe there is much to be learned from Ayn Rand herself and her novels, I also believe that one cannot rightly think they will translate well into the real world. Much as Lenin’s real world application of Communism did not work, a similar experiment of Rand’s ideas would be similarly disastrous.

Marx and Rand are opposite sides of the same coin. Theories and reason are always a good basis, but once human beings are involved, strict application of these ideas are nearly impossible without the almost police-state-type-laws against anything that strays from them. Happiness comes in all forms and cannot be pigeon-holed into one definition. To one man an $8000 shower curtain is happiness, to another it is a sunset or giving someone a warm meal. Personally speaking, I enjoy Rand and Marx equally. They were both able to point out problems in the system they lived in and they visualized their own personal utopia.

I don’t believe either would be happy now with how their ideas of something they thought was truly good, and came from wanting to make a better society, was perverted to bring about the political machinations of a few. My utopia stands somewhere between Rand and Marx and while I think it’s nearly perfect, I understand that once the human race tries to implement it, that even my utopia, my implementing what makes ME happy, will not make everyone happy. At that point it ceases to be a utopia and become tyranny and we must start all over again.

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