Ayn Rand and War: Natural Bedfellows?

In recent years, many young followers of Ayn Rand track me down and engage in discussions, which I enjoy, even if I find her philosophy abhorrent and illiberal. These young people have read Rand’s novels, but none of her nonfiction, and nothing of her movement. This makes for “interesting” debates on the relationship between liberty and religion and the basis of “morality.” (Like postmodern Leftists, Rand’s followers frequently put many words in “quotation marks.”)

The Iraq war has revealed the sad ignorance of young objectivists. They are often anti-war AND crazy about Rand, even as they write essays for an Ayn Rand Institute (www.aynrand.org) that urges total war and dismisses “just war” as suicidal milquetoast morality. More generally, it has shown the uglier side of the movement and its objective “truths.” The following citations are indicative:

“Objectivist Goose-Stepping”

“While Objectivism’s ethical branch extols a moral code based on rational self-interest, individualism, and happiness according to objective values and virtues, its political branch harbors the ideas of collectivism and statism. Thus, we witness attempts by ARI’s fellows and their supporters to justify actions of people in government by appealing to absurd abstractions such as national “self-interest.” Instead of noticing their essential conflict in these matters, they continue to sanction and promote the coercive behavior of those working for the State—and thereby drop the context of self-interest, individualism, and happiness, in addition to reason and objective reality.

“Instead of strictly denouncing taxation and the welfare/warfare State, and by extension its ridiculous military structure, based on Objectivism’s principles of reason and individualism—and individualism’s historical and societal roots in America—the fellows at ARI utilize the currently hegemonic, neoconned political climate and the psychological aftermath of 9/11….”

Directly targeting civilians is perfectly legitimate,” Brook said. “If it’s possible to isolate the truly innocent—such as children and freedom fighters—at no military cost, then do so. But insofar as the innocent cannot be isolated … they should be killed without any moral hesitation.”

Brook said that if the use of nuclear and chemical weapons was necessary to stop the insurgency, “then it is morally necessary to do so.”

He argued that ego-rationalism is a better way of fighting the war on terrorism. “This means we go to war whenever, wherever if the rights of our citizens are threatened,” he said.

Tsunami victims? Helping them is disgusting “charity.” Valentine’s Day? Romantic humbug. (Earth to ARI: College campuses celebrate Vagina Day in lieu of Valentine’s Day? WWAD? What Would Ayn Do about delivering a “vagina monologue?” Do we even want to know?

Of course, don’t believe these writers, read it straight from the Objectivists. Or watch UberObjectivist Peikoff on video (WGBH)

Jonathan Bean is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, Professor of History at Southern Illinois University, and editor of the Independent book, Race & Liberty in America: The Essential Reader.
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