Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The Biography of The Goddess of Philosophy

The Passion of Ayn Rand
Barbara Branden

Was Ayn Rand an Objectivist? I ask this question because after reading Barbara Branden’s The Passion of Ayn Rand I am constrained to believe that at times Rand took decisions that were philosophically unsound. “Check your premises,” was her favorite injunction, but there are instances where she failed to check her own premises.

Branden writes with the flair of a gifted fiction writer—The Passion of Ayn Rand is like a magic carpet that transports you to an earlier instance, to the world of Ayn Rand where the absorbing drama of her life unfolds before your eyes.

Approaching her subject with sympathy and understanding, Branden gives a riveting description of the challenges that Rand faced before she become an established writer. Rand fled from Soviet Union and arrived in USA in 1926 with only $50. After living with relatives in Chicago for a few months she went to Hollywood where she initially survived by taking up all kinds of odd jobs. She attained financial stability after the publication of The Fountainhead in 1943.

The Ayn Rand that emerges from the book’s pages is completely believable—from the first page the book catches hold of your attention and fills you with the feeling that you are indeed engaged in reading the story of the writer of life transforming books like We The Living, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. This is Ayn Rand—this is how she was—this is how she ought to be.

In The Fountainhead, Peter Keating describes Howard Roark in these words: “He’d walk over corpses. Any and all of them. All of us. But he’d be an architect.” But Keating’s words can be applied to Rand. The inference that you draw from Branden’s book is that Rand, like Roark, will walk over corpses. Any and all of them. All of us. But she will write great works of literature and philosophy.

The Passion of Ayn Rand is divided into six parts: Prologue, We The Living, The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, Denouement, and Epilogue. The first three parts have many laudatory things to say about Rand. Even the last two parts—Denouement and Epilogue—pay glowing tributes to Rand.

But in the part titled “Atlas Shrugged” Rand’s major failings get revealed. The scenarios in this section are mystifying—Rand, the philosopher of reason and reality, comes out as a person who is consistently failing to apply the principles of her philosophy in several aspects of her life. She has surrounded herself with young men and women (devout acolytes like Nathaniel and Barbara) who are extremely obsequious with her—basking under their constant adulation Rand is convinced about her own philosophical infallibility.

Barbara surmises that Rand has worked with such severity for decades to complete her novels that she has reached the stage where she is trapped in the world of her own fiction. Rand is often unable to judge people and situations—everyone she sees is, in varying degrees, a copy of some character that she created in her novels. She thinks that those who do not share her taste in music, literature, painting and movies are suffering from a flawed psycho-epistemology.

“No one achieves power who does not seek it; had [Ayn Rand] not insisted upon being viewed as a goddess, she would not have been so viewed. Nevertheless, the adulation she received was a great disservice to her. She needed to be challenged when she applauded a young woman’s agony—or when she spoke of Aristotle as the only thinker in history from whom she had had anything to learn—or when she demanded, in her affair with Nathaniel, that a set of rules be held as applicable to her that were not applicable to others—or when she flew into a rage, as she did with her attorney, Pincus Berner, at his suggestion that everyone, including herself, had at some time done what they knew to be wrong—or when she made it implicitly clear that any criticism of her was an act of treason to reason and morality.”

There is one thing that Rand desperately quests for in her life—she wants to be in a relationship with a perfect man, one who is a quintessential John Galt. But when a real John Galt does not enter her life, she commits the psychological mistake of attributing John Galt’s qualities to the man who is available. Her husband Frank O’Connor becomes the first substitute for John Galt. But he is an unambitious, easygoing man who often indulges in boozing. When he fails to meet her expectations she looks for an alternative and discovers Nathaniel Branden.

Rand commences a relationship with Nathaniel with full knowledge and consent of her husband, Frank, and Nathaniel’s then-wife, Barbara. The problem is that she is around 25-years older than Nathaniel. He lacks the experience and knowledge to be her companion—but he is a quick learner and he soon develops a good grasp of philosophy. He initiates several ventures to propagate Rand’s ideas. Yet he is not John Galt. But she is convinced that he is.

In the beginning Nathaniel enjoys being hailed as a John Galt, but in a few years his consciousness begins to rebel at the idea of being something that he isn’t. The realization dawns on him that he wants to be who he really is. He falls for Patrecia, a woman of his own age. When Rand comes to know of his affair she is devastated, and she reacts in the only way she can—by accusing Nathaniel of being a moral monster. In her description of the torturous breakup between Rand and Nathaniel, Barbara tries to be compassionate to both sides. But she creates the feeling that the greater responsibility for what happened lay with Rand.

But what if a John Galt like figure did enter Ayn Rand’s life! In my view, it is impossible for Rand and a Galt-like man to coexist. When both are ruthlessly driven to achieve their own ambitions, a conflict of interest will inevitably arise at some point of time and they will be driven apart. I think Frank O’Connor, who allowed Rand to have her way in everything, was the right man for her. Whenever she needed his support he was available for her and he never let his own desires and ambitions come in the way of her work. It is true that their marriage decayed over a period of time but at least they remained together till the end.

Reading The Passion of Ayn Rand is a great emotional experience. You can’t put down the book once you start reading it. The spellbinding narrative enables you to develop a mature view of Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism.

I will end this review with a passage from Barbara Branden’s Introduction that is sublime in its poetic expression:

“Those who worship Ayn Rand and those who damn her do her the same disservice: they make her unreal and they deny her humanity. I hope to show in her story that she was something infinitely more fascinating and infinitely more valuable than either goddess or sinner. She was a human being. She lived, she loved, she fought her battles, and she knew triumph and defeat. The scale is epic; the principle is inherent in human existence.”

Related: 

The Noumenal World of Nathaniel Branden

Monday, 27 February 2017

Shakespeare’s Marriage

On 27th November, 1582, William Shakespeare, 18, and Anne Hathaway, 26, pay a 40-pound bond for their marriage license in Stratford-upon-Avon. In his marriage document, William Shakespeare’s name was spelled ‘William Shagspere’.

In his interesting book Shakespeare: The World as Stage, Bill Bryson writes: “The marriage license itself is lost, but a separate document, the marriage bond, survives. On it Anne Hathaway is correctly identified. Shakespeare’s name is rendered as “Shagspere”—the first of many arrestingly variable renderings.”

Bryson speculates that Anne became pregnant prior to their marriage and there was a major scandal. The Shakespeare and Hathaway families were furious and a hasty marriage had to be arranged. Till 1604 the age of consent in Britain was twelve for a girl, fourteen for a boy.

“We know also that she had three children with William Shakespeare—Susanna in May 1583 and the twins, Judith and Hamnet, in early February 1585—but all the rest is darkness. We know nothing about the couple’s relationship—whether they bickered constantly or were eternally doting.” ~ Bill Bryson in Shakespeare: The World as Stage.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Ayn Rand On Foreign Policy

The first chapter of “Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q & A” contains a few Q&A in which Ayn Rand calls for a total rejection of the traditional conventions that have led to the dubious foreign policy decisions and misguided foreign adventures.

She advocates strong foreign policy for safeguarding the interests of the citizens.

The foreign policy topics covered in the Q&A are wide ranging: the Vietnam war, Arab-Israeli conflict, threat from the Soviet Union, military preparedness, development of nuclear weapons, immorality of pacifism, collateral damage in wars, and much else.

To indicate the general flavor of Rand’s arguments on foreign policy, here are the excerpts from some of her answers:

On Cuban crisis
President Kennedy’s ultimatum was the first time in fifty years that an American president spoke like an American president. It was magnificent. For once, he addressed Russia properly; and Russia, like any bully, backed down when confronted with strength. But Kennedy let the victory disappear into meaninglessness, and nothing happened. He surrendered to the United Nations. Therefore, we didn't win any concession, merely a gesture.

On Vietnam crisis
The idea that this country cannot defeat Vietnam is ridiculous, and the whole world knows it. But we are not allowed to use our strength. We’re not allowed to take proper measures—that is, pursue the Vietcong across borders and into its own territory, and so on. We are fighting with our hands tied. The idea that America must withdraw from Vietnam is worse than appeasement. It is a shameful pretense. Further, since the world knows we are not physically weak, it would be an admission of moral corruption: that we do not possess a primitive dignity that any nation should have—to its own dead, if nothing else—that if it is involved in a war, it should finish it. It must win or be defeated.

On military preparedness
We should be ahead, as we were originally. One of the historic crimes of this country’s governments is that they allowed our superiority to deteriorate. But we can’t complain about that now; we must correct it.

Immorality of pacifism
This is the position of the goddamned pacifists, who won’t fight, even if attacked, because they might kill innocent people. If this were correct, nobody would have to be concerned about his country’s political system. But we must care about the right social system, because our lives depend on it—because a political system, good or bad, is established in our name, and we bear the responsibility for it.

Foreign obligations and treaties
Western countries are leaning on one another, as bad risks and parasites, and the United States is the only remaining pillar, though it’s almost eaten away. So the first step in any solution is to break those foreign obligations, and demand payment for what is owed. If the United States received part of the money the world—and particularly Europe—owes it, we might have a Renaissance in America overnight. The problem is that that money no longer exists. There are only consumers on a more advanced stage toward dictatorship than we are.

(Source: Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q & A; Chapter: “Politics and Economics”)

Friday, 24 February 2017

A Week Of Poverty

Josef Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, and Mikhail Kalinin
(At 8th Congress of the Communist Party—March 1919)
This is a poignant account of the terror that people experienced under the barbaric communist regime in the Soviet Union:

Early in 1921, the Red government of the Crimea declared a “week of poverty.” Soldiers went to every home in the town, and if anyone owned “too much,” the excess was taken from him to be given to the town’s poorer population. Some people were left with only the clothes on their backs. When the soldiers burst into the Rosenbaum home, they took the family’s one priceless luxury, saved from Fronz Rosenbaum’s chemist shop: a few bars of soap. During that week, the father of a girl in Alice’s class—a former industrialist who had owned a small industry under the White regime—was arrested and shot; his body was found on the seashore. From the loot the soldiers had taken, each school class was sent a single used dress; the girls were to draw lots to determine which one of them would receive the tattered dress. “I can’t tell you the horror I felt,” Alice later said, “when my class received a dress that had belonged to the daughter of the murdered man. That poor girl just sat humbly at her desk, watching silently as her dress was presented to the group. None of the girls wanted it; they refused to draw lots. But one ‘socially minded girl’ declared that she wanted it, she had a right to it, she was poor and her clothes were ragged—and she took it.”

In the above account, the young girl Alice is Alice Rosenbaum who later became famous as Ayn Rand. Fronz Rosenbaum is her father.

(Source: The Passion of Ayn Rand by Barbara Branden)

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

On Anthemgate by Robert Tracinski

Le Penseur
I read “Anthemgate,” Robert Tracinski’s controversial article, yesterday. This article is difficult to digest because it appears to be packed with hard evidence and logic—which is almost impossible to chew and swallow.

The arguments that Tracinski makes are convincing and therefore are mind numbing. And yet it is hard to accept that the state of affairs in the highest echelons of Objectivism can be so dismal.

I am not interested in recounting the laundry list of allegations that Tracinski makes—I will only say that he offers a rather sad critique of Dr. Leonard Peikoff’s awareness of certain political and cultural realities. He praises the great philosophical work that Dr. Peikoff has done, but has a low opinion of the intellectual direction in which he is leading the ARI.

The article is like a shattering explosion for those who were naively hoping that they might, in their lifetime, see Ayn Rand’s Objectivist system develop into a political and cultural force.

What if it is true that there isn't enough objectivity and intellectual integrity in the top intellectuals who are currently the de jure and de facto custodians of Objectivism! What if organized Objectivism has transmogrified into a self-serving and lethargic bureaucracy!

If this is the situation then it is futile to hope for any kind of progress. Indeed, it is such a painful thing to have myriad seeds of doubt suddenly sprouting in your brain.

I continue to hope that the evidence that Tracinski presents in the article is flawed. Perhaps he has his own axe to grind against the intellectuals of the ARI. So where is the evidence to prove that Tracinski is wrong? I tried to do some research but I have not come across any evidence to prove that Tracinski is not being factual in the article.

But it is also true that I don’t have enough information to judge the evidence that Tracinski offers. Therefore I can’t say that his article contains the “truth” and “nothing but the truth.” But he is definitely right about some of the key points like the resignation from ARI of Mr. John McCaskey, McCaskey’s review of Dr. David Harriman’s book, and a few other things.

Towards the end of the article Tracinski says that “I consider myself an Independent Objectivist—with a capital “I,” and a capital “O.” And I believe that Independent Objectivism is what we need.” Well, good luck with that. I am not sure that a lone Objectivist can make a serious dent in the rotten edifice of the egalitarian political culture that is destroying our lives.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Why Objectivism Must Have "O" Capitalized?

Why is it a categorical imperative to spell Objectivism with a capital “O”?

There are those who argue that “O” in Objectivism should not be capitalized because the word "objectivism" is a noun and not a proper noun. They point out that it is not the norm to capitalize the first letter in words like “socialism,” “communism,” or “fascism.”

The name of a philosophy is capitalized only when the name is coined by modifying the name of the original philosopher—for instance, Platonism, Aristotelianism, Marxism, Leninism, etc. So why capitalize the “O” when the word “Objectivism” is not formed by modifying the letters in Ayn Rand?

Here’s the answer to such arguments:

The reason for which we use capital “O” in Objectivism is primarily philosophical and not grammatical. In the history of philosophy there already exists a “classical objectivism” which is an intrinsicist doctrine. By capitalising the “O” in Objectivism Ayn Rand has clarified that her philosophy is the proper response to the false dichotomy of intrinsicism (classical objectivism) versus subjectivism.

It can be tempting to argue that “Objectivism” is the name of Ayn Rand's philosophy—it is her creation and her brand and therefore it is a proper noun and ought to be capitalized.

But I don't think the idea that the word "Objectivism" becomes a proper noun simply because Rand adopted it can be defended because all the major dictionaries say that the word is a noun. I think it is best to say that "Objectivism" is a proper noun because it stands exclusively for Rand's philosophy which is different from the objectivist doctrines of the past.

Let us consider the word “Selfishness." Ayn Rand has defined Selfishness in a way that is vastly different from the definition in any dictionary. But she has not claimed that her definition has to be accepted simply because she says so. She has made a philosophical case for her stance. She has written books, essays to explain why she defines "selfish" in a particular way. Likewise, we must try to defend the use of capital "O" in Objectivism through a philosophical method.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Ayn Rand on Rational Religious People

Ayn Rand believed that it is possible for religious people to be rational and inclined towards Objectivism. She was against forbidding religion. She held that it is better to leave people the right to be wrong in their own way.

In Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Rand is asked the question: “If religion is instrumental in spreading altruism, can we fight altruism in America without fighting religion?” Here's her answer:

“In America, religion is relatively non-mystical. Religious teachers here are predominantly good, healthy materialists. They follow common sense. They would not stand in our way. The majority of religious people in this country do not accept on faith the idea of jumping into a cannibal's pot and giving away their last shirt to the backward people of the world. Many religious leaders preach this today, because of their own leftist politics; it's not inherent in being religious. There are many historical and philosophical connections between altruism and religion, but the function of religion in this country is not altruism. You would not find too much opposition to Objectivism among religious Americans. There are rational religious people. In fact, I was pleased and astonished to discover that some religious people support Objectivism. If you want to be a full Objectivist, you cannot reconcile that with religion; but that doesn't mean religious people cannot be individualists and fight for freedom. They can, and this country is the best proof of it.”

(Source: Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q&A: Chapter: “Religious Conservatives”) 

Is Suffering Necessary For Moral Development?

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Many intellectuals claim that the poverty, insecurity and coercion in the theocratic and socialist regimes is not a bad thing because it enables people to develop proper virtues. They insist that individuals learn how to be moral when they undergo suffering, and that the empty stomachs, concentration camps, torture chambers and firing squads are necessary for creating virtuous men.

Indeed, it is true that even in a dictatorship like the Soviet Union a few people are able to flourish in some areas of their life. For instance, in the Soviet Union where tens of millions of people were incarcerated, brutalized and murdered by the communist government in the infamous Gulag prison camps, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn flourished—in the area of being a thinker and writer.

He survived the Gulag prison camp and went on to write his celebrated history of the Soviet holocaust, The Gulag Archipelago, and many other books. Can the case be made that Solzhenitsyn evolved morally and intellectually due to the years of incarceration, deprivation and torture that he suffered in the Soviet prisons?

In Norms of Liberty, Douglas B. Rasmussen and Douglas J. Den Uyl reject the idea that suffering is a necessary condition for the moral development of individuals. Here’s an excerpt:
“It is, of course, possible for coercion to bring some persons to a position where they come to understand the appropriateness of a moral norm that they may not have otherwise seen. In fact, the extreme example of this is Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. He turned the Gulag into an opportunity for moral development. However, there is no necessary relationship here. What examples like the Gulag reveal is that, if individuals have some control over some areas of their lives, they might be able to integrate their circumstances into their own unique form of flourishing. Yet what this illustrates is the pluralistic character of human flourishing, not the usefulness of coercion in creating moral excellence. Indeed, what coercion often means for countless persons is the loss of their moral compasses and indeed their souls. But numbers do not matter here; what matters here is that coercion bears no necessary, or even probable, connection to moral excellence. If our goal is moral excellence, then there is little to recommend coercion generally applied.”

Monday, 13 February 2017

Ayn Rand’s Views on Political and Cultural Issues

Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q & A (Kindle Edition)
Edited by Robert Mayhew

Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q & A is an excellent resource for gaining insight into Ayn Rand’s views on political and cultural issues.

The interviews of Rand that are there in the book were conducted during the 1960s and 1970s but the ideas that she proposes are very relevant today. This is because the political problems that we are now facing are linked to the collectivist and altruist ideas that were developed during the first half of the twentieth century.

Ayn Rand could see further than most people and she knew about the absurd outcomes such ideas would inevitably lead to. It is an interesting experience to read her answers and compare what she has said to what is happening today.

Here are a few quotes from Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q & A:
“The first thing Objectivism would advocate in regard to undeveloped nations is not to send them material help but to teach them political freedom. For any nation, no matter how undeveloped, if it establishes a political system that protects individual rights, its progress and development will be phenomenal.” 
“When currency is not backed by gold, then we are under the power of a government that arbitrarily sets the value of money, devalues the currency, inflates credit, and taxes us indirectly through the manipulation of money (which is more disastrous than direct taxation). The government's power to destroy the objective value and security of currency is precisely what ultimately destroys the economy.” 
“The notion that antitrust laws protects free competition is a wide-spread economic fallacy.”
“Nationalism as a primary—that is, the attitude of “my country, right or wrong,” without any judgement—is chauvinism: a blind, collectivist, racist feeling for your own country, merely because you were born there. In that sense, nationalism is very wrong. But nationalism properly understood – as a man's devotion to his country because of an approval of its basic premises, principles, and social system, as well as its culture – is the common bond among men of that nation. It is a commonly understood culture, and an affection for it, that permits a society of men to live together peacefully. But a country and its system must earn this approval. It must be worthy of that kind of devotion.” 
"If men want to organize into a union and bargain collectively with their employer, that is their right, provided they don't force anyone to join, or force their employer to negotiate with them.
“Politics must begin with an idea. You cannot win elections with isolated slogans used once in four years. If anything practical can be done, it is this: Work out a consistent set of principles, and teach it to the people in your party: precinct workers, local candidates, and perhaps national candidates.”
“Anyone serious about saving the world today must first discard the dominant philosophy of the culture. Stand on your own as much as if you moved to a separate valley, like in Atlas Shrugged. Check your premises; define your convictions rationally. Do not take anything on faith; do not believe that your elders know what they're doing; because they don’t." 
“The difference between religion and philosophy is that religion is a matter of faith. You either have faith or you don't. You cannot argue about it. But when you deal with philosophy, you deal with reason and logic. That is an objective element of language common to all men. You can try to persuade others that you are right, or you are free to disagree with them. In a free country, you need not deal with them. But religion is an issue of faith. By definition, if one doesn't accept faith, or if different people believe different faiths, no common action, agreement, or persuasion is possible among them if religion is made a condition of political agreement.”  
“When a country doesn't recognize the individual rights of its own citizens, it cannot claim any national or international rights. Therefore, anyone who wants to invade a dictatorship or semi-dictatorship is morally justified in doing so, because he is doing no worse than what that country has accepted as its social system. It is improper to attack a free country, because it recognizes the individual rights of its citizens.”

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Ayn Rand on the Right and Wrong Kinds of Nationalism

In Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q & A, Ayn Rand says that there can be more than one kind of nationalism depending on how the term is interpreted. She says this in response to the question: What is the value of nationalism?

This is how Rand describes a wrong kind of nationalism:
“Nationalism as a primary—that is, the attitude of “my country, right or wrong,” without any judgement—is chauvinism: a blind, collectivist, racist feeling for your own country, merely because you were born there. In that sense, nationalism is very wrong.”
Here’s her description of the right kind of nationalism:
“Nationalism properly understood – as a man's devotion to his country because of an approval of its basic premises, principles, and social system, as well as its culture – is the common bond among men of that nation. It is a commonly understood culture, and an affection for it, that permits a society of men to live together peacefully. But a country and its system must earn this approval. It must be worthy of that kind of devotion.” 
Nowadays it has become cool to despise all nationalists as racists and collectivists of the worst kind. But Rand did not hold such an opinion. She thought that if the country is “worthy of devotion” then there is nothing wrong in people being devoted to their country. She regarded nationalism as a common bond between rational and free people who have knowledge of culture.

I have pointed out in my earlier article, “Ayn Rand’s View of Nationalism and Globalism,” that Rand was an advocate of intelligent patriotism.

Related:

Ayn Rand’s View of Nationalism and Globalism

Friday, 10 February 2017

Ayn Rand’s View of Nationalism and Globalism

Given the rise of nationalist political movements in the world’s major democracies, it is of no surprise that the Objectivist community is giving lot of attention to the topics of nationalism and globalism (internationalism).

For some Objectivists, nationalism is equivalent to barbarism, racism, senseless wars, and fascist dictatorship. Other Objectivists reject this view of nationalism—they say that the contemporary nationalist movements have gained popularity because normal people want political change—they are exasperated by the catastrophic domestic and foreign policies of the progressive governments.

But what was Ayn Rand’s position on nationalism and internationalism? Rand has presented her views on these topics in two articles that she wrote in 1962—“Britain’s National Socialism” and “Nationalism versus Internationalism.” (Published in The Ayn Rand Column)

In the article “Britain’s National Socialism” (LA Times, October 4, 1962), Rand writes:

“For decades, the ‘liberals’ have regarded “nationalism” as an arch-evil of capitalism. They denounced national self-interest—they permitted no distinction between intelligent patriotism and blind, racist chauvinism, deliberately lumping them together—they smeared all opponents of internationalist doctrines as ‘reactionaries,’ ‘fascists’ or ‘isolationists’—and they brought this country to the stage where expressions such as “America First” became terms of opprobrium.”

Rand points out that the liberals “clamored that nationalism was the cause of wars—and that the only way to achieve global peace was to dissolve all national boundaries, sacrifice national sovereignty and merge into the United Nations or into One World.”

She rejects the globalist idea that it is the moral duty of the people in developed societies to surrender their freedom, their rights, their wealth and even their military defence “to the mercy of the majority vote of the savage tribes of the whole world.” She says that a nation has the right to neglect the views of every other country in the world (if the need arises) and implement a domestic and foreign policy that will safeguard the interests of its own citizens.

In the article “Nationalism versus Internationalism” (LA Times, November 4, 1962), Rand denounces the doctrine of internationalism or globalism. She writes:

“Championed and propagated by ‘liberals’ for many decades, internationalism is collectivism applied to the relationships of nations. Just as domestic collectivism holds that an individual’s freedom and interests must be sacrificed to the ‘public interest’ of society—so internationalism holds that a nation’s sovereignty and interests must be sacrificed to a global community.”

Ayn Rand was certainly not a nationalist, but it is clear from the two articles that she did not equate nationalism with barbarians, warmongers, fascists, and racists. She thought that when the nationalists are motivated by intelligent patriotism they can achieve better political outcomes. What she strongly rejects is the doctrine of internationalism or globalism.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

A Foreign Policy Inspired by The Philosophy of Ayn Rand

The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest: A Moral Ideal For America
Ayn Rand Institute Press, 2004
Peter Schwartz

“The premise shaping our foreign policy is that we must sacrifice ourselves for the sake of weaker nations because self-interest cannot be the standard of our actions,” says Peter Schwartz in the opening chapter of The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest.

He is sharply critical of the American foreign policy which is modelled on the morally flawed precept of self-sacrifice. Such foreign policy emboldens the dictatorships and terrorist organizations—it leads to a rise in the threats that America faces—it hinders the American leaders from responding self-assertively and unapologetically to safeguard their nation’s interests.

Schwartz brings Ayn Rand’s philosophical principles of reason, individualism and capitalism to the realm of international politics and argues about the futility of having a foreign policy that entails a sacrifice of American interests. While his arguments are philosophical, his analysis of foreign policy is genuinely incisive.

He asserts that “freedom is the end to which all other political actions are the means. This is the standard by which a nation’s interests ought to be measured—and this is where the science of foreign policy should begin.” He says that as America is a nation that enshrines freedom it must adopt a foreign policy that is based on self-interest.

“Since freedom can be breached only by the initiation of force, our foreign policy must protect us from foreign aggressors. Our government must safeguard American lives and property by using retaliatory force agains the initiators. This is how our freedom is preserved.”

Schwartz says that the US must wage war only when there is a threat to the freedom of its citizens. “Our government is not the world’s policeman… It is, however, America’s policeman.” When self-interest and preservation of freedom are the considerations then America will have the moral power to use force to eradicate any foreign threat.

In his critique of American foreign policy, Schwarz devotes considerable attention to the Islamic states of the Middle East. He says that Washington is incapable of defending American interests because “our officials are uncertain about the moral validity of America’s war on terrorism.” The policy of appeasing the dictatorships is, in Schwartz’s view, contributing to the rise in terrorism.

A dictatorship that remains in power by robbing the freedom of its citizens will never have a foreign policy that promotes freedom. The aim of its foreign policy is to destroy freedom in other countries just as the aim of its domestic policy is to destroy freedom within the country.

He offers a forceful denunciation of the American policy of giving moral endorsement to countries like Iran. He rejects the possibility of American military being used to bring freedom to the people of the Middle East. He asserts, “Freedom is an idea. It cannot be forced upon a culture that refuses to value it. It cannot be forced upon a society wedded to tribalist, collectivist values.”

Washington’s vacillating foreign policy entails such erratic use of force that the dictatorships and terrorists think that they will prevail because Americans will be unwilling to fight a long drawn battle. Schwartz says that a principled foreign policy must anticipate the future consequences—it must be preemptive—in delivering punishment it must make the next attack impossible.

In the book’s final chapter, “The moral and the Practical,” Schwartz says that the threats to America are rising because of philosophical default on part of its intellectuals and politicians. He blames the false dichotomy between the moral and practical for weakening America’s foreign policy. “The dichotomy goes unchallenged because the only moral standard most people can conceive is one that enshrines self-sacrifice.”

The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest is of only 80 pages—you can easily read it in four or five hours. But in this small number of pages Schwartz explains why the foreign policy of America is failing to protect the country, and he offers an interesting exposition of a rational foreign policy based on Ayn Rand’s philosophic system, which espouses the values of reason, individualism and capitalism.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Awareness is not omniscience; it’s awareness of something in some form

In Concepts and Their Role in Knowledge, Gregory Salmieri has interesting arguments to explain why the limits of perception cannot be described as errors.

Here’s an excerpt from the chapter, "Forms of Awareness And 'Three-Factor' Theories," by Salmieri:
“Since any sense faculty will be limited in its acuity, regarding these limits as obscuring the world from us amounts to taking as one’s standard of awareness the sort of omniscience that Moore, Bertrand Russell, and others thought that we had of sense-data. But it is impossible to live up to this (supernatural) standard, and so it will push us toward the conclusion that our acquaintance with external object is always partially obscured or else superimposed with a hallucinatory material. Any view that includes this (supernatural) standard of direct awareness will, if developed consistently, lead us to regard ourselves as trapped behind a veil of perception (even if some versions will permit us to regard the veil as less than fully opaque).” 
The chapter (to be precise, the entire book) is worth reading.

(Source: Concepts And Their Role in Knowledge, Edited by Allan Gotthelf and James G. Lennox)

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Allan Gotthelf on Ayn Rand’s Theory of Concepts

To celebrate Ayn Rand’s birthday (2 February 1905) here’s a good quote from Allan Gotthelf on Ayn Rand’s unique achievement, her theory of concepts:
The nature and formation of a concept depends in part on reality (for instance, mind-independent commensurability and causal relationships) and in part on the requirements of a conceptual consciousness (for instance, the need to integrate via measurement-omission and the need of unit-economy). Concepts, then, are neither products of subjective conscious choices, as nominalism claims, nor intuitive grasps of intrinsic universals or essences, as realism claims. They are, on Rand’s view, essentially distinct from what both of these theories take concepts to be. And because grasping their nature is central to our understanding of human cognition and to the establishment of norms thereof, we need a new concept—and term—for the actual relationship between concepts and the world. Rand’s term for this third status is “objective.” As she writes, “None of these schools regards concepts as objective, i.e., as neither revealed nor invented, but as produced by man’s consciousness in accordance with the facts of reality, as mental integrations of factual data computed by man—as the products of a cognitive method of classification whose processes must be performed by man, but whose content is dictated by reality.” 
(Source: Concepts And Their Role in Knowledge, Edited by Allan Gotthelf and James G. Lennox; Chapter: “Ayn Rand’s Theory of Concepts”)