On December 15, 1791, the United States Congress ratified the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution guaranteeing individual rights and limiting government power. For Ayn Rand, who consistently defended the rights of the individual, the significance of the Bill of Rights was obvious: “The Bill of Rights was not directed against private citizens, but against the government–as an explicit declaration that individual rights supersede any public or social power.” In her novel Atlas Shrugged, Rand created a dystopian America in which individual rights and freedoms are systematically removed and replaced with policies and regulations designed to promote public welfare and social protections. Ayn Rand’s heroes, the private business men and women exploited by the new policies, ultimately  go on strike–although not always without a fight–abandoning their homes and businesses and fleeing the tyranny, chaos, and deprivation that the policies create. In most cases, as Rand imagined it, no one officially revokes rights. For example, the rights to conscience, speech and assembly remain in Atlas Shrugged. It just gets harder and harder to exercise them. When Dagny Taggart tries to conduct...
This four-part series by The Atlas Society Senior Scholar Stephen Hicks, Ph.D is a justification of capitalism and of Ayn Rand’s ethics of egoism in business. The series was originally published as one article in the Journal of Accounting, Ethics, & Public Policy in 2003. Fifteen years later, Hicks’s arguments remain important. Today, sundry politicians and activists cynically perpetuate the myths of Socialism by targeting profitable businesses with regulations and fines in the name of the environment and the needy. Bureaucrats attempt to usurp credit for the accomplishments of Capitalism by claiming “Nobody in this country got rich on their own.” Hicks makes the case that Ayn Rand’s moral defense of individualism and Capitalism remains the best refutation of the anti-business agenda. Introduction: Business and the Free Society, Part One Advocates of the free society think of business as an integral part of the dynamic, progressive society they advocate. In the West, the rise of a culture hospitable to business has unleashed incalculable productive energies. Business professionals have taken the products of science and revolutionized the fields of agriculture, transportation, and medicine. Business professionals have taken the products of art and dramatically increased our access to them. We have more food, we are more mobile, we have more health care, we have more access to works of fiction, theater, and music than anyone could reasonably have predicted a few...
In my last essay, I summarized some leading ideas of Auguste Comte, who coined the word “altruism” and defended the subordination of individuals to humanity (“the Great Being”) as the ultimate moral ideal. I also characterized Rand’s conception of altruism as the “negative image” of Comte’s. The contrast between Comte and Rand could not be more stark. According to Comte, for example, “Humanity is divisible primarily into States, then into Families, never into individuals;” and man’s “emotional nature” should be “paramount” over his reason. Similar fundamental differences abound throughout the writings of Comte and Rand—as we see in Comte’s assertion that wealth should be held “in trust” for the good of humanity, and that “industrial chiefs” should be viewed as “representatives of Humanity,” whose ultimate purpose is to serve humanity as a whole rather than their own interests. Although I doubt if Rand ever read Comte in detail, some of her statements appear to be direct responses, in effect, to his claims. Consider this passage from Roark’s courtroom speech in The Fountainhead: Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men. Comte, in contrast, demanded the “constant subordination of private to public life.” Indeed, an important...
On 4 July 1943, Ayn Rand wrote to John C. Gall, a conservative attorney and fan of The Fountainhead: A great many Republicans would be scared to death to recognize that altruism is the curse of the world and that as long as we go on screaming “service” and “self-sacrifice” louder than the New Deal we will never have a chance. In any encounter with collectivists it is always the acceptance of altruism as an ideal not to be questioned that defeats us. I wrote The Fountainhead to show, in human terms, just what that ideal actually means and where we must stand if we want to win. If we can make the word “altruism” become a shameful term, which it actually is, instead of the automatic trademark of virtue which people think it to be—we will get the Tooheys out of Washington someday. Although the Tooheys still dominate American politics, and although most Americans do not view “altruism” as a shameful term, much less the curse of the world, Ayn Rand convinced many people to question the conventional wisdom that self-sacrifice is a virtue, especially when enforced by the coercive power of government. “Altruism,” according to Rand, means “the placing of others above self, of their interests above one’s own.” This account is consistent with standard dictionary definitions of “altruism,” such as “unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others.” But Rand departed radically from conventional wisdom in...
On December 5, 1933, Congress ratified the 21st Amendment and repealed Prohibition. While Ayn Rand personally rarely drank alcohol, she opposed the government ban. She even applauded Americans who broke the law and “began drinking on principle in the face of Prohibition.” Rand wrote a number of memorable scenes that featured drinks with friends. While she wrote about drunkenness in a negative light, typically drinks among intimates served as counterpoint to unresolved conflicts. In We the Living, Rand’s first novel, Andrei Taganov skips a Communist Party meeting to take his lover Kira Argounova to the rooftop garden of the European Hotel.  Andrei, who has been a Communist Party member his entire life and who fought on the front lines of the October 1917 revolution, has just admitted to Kira that he has been wrong about everything: “I know, then, that a life is possible whose only justification is my own joy–then everything, everything else suddenly seems very different to me.” Kira, concerned that Andrei’s self-realization may be too late and too risky, tries to divert the conversation, suggesting that they have drinks. Andrei orders the drinks, but remains oblivious to the danger and earnestly offers a toast to his new life: “He watched the glow of the glass at her lips, a long, thin, shivering line of liquid light between fingers that looked golden in its reflection. He said: ‘Let’s drink a toast to...

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