March 5, 2002 -- On March 6, 1982, writer and philosopher Ayn Rand died. Her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and non-fiction works like Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal were major influences on the development of the libertarian movement, and in the two decades since her death, the accuracy of her insights has been demonstrated time and again.

Ayn Rand was born in 1905 in czarist Russia. Before she left in 1926, she witnessed the rise of that most evil empire, a communist regime that would take the lives, liberty, and property of millions of people. She understood firsthand the horrid consequences of evil philosophies and the importance of defending the right ideas for the right reasons.

Many great supporters of liberty, such as economists F.A. Hayek and Milton Friedman, justified the capitalist system because it produces more material goods and services than planned or socialist systems, which will stagnate or collapse to the extent that governments try to control them.
But Rand maintained that capitalism must be defended first and foremost on moral grounds. Unlike plants or lower animals, human beings have a unique rational capacity that each of us must choose to exercise if we’re to survive and prosper. We need to discover how to produce food, cure diseases, construct shelters, and build skyscrapers. This means that we each must be free to act on the judgments of our own minds.
So what do these facts tell us about society? Rand observed that individuals can deal with each other in one of two ways: through mutual consent or by initiating force. Capitalism is the social system based on mutual consent and respect for the rights and dignity of each individual. In contrast, when governments try to run economies, by definition they use force to take the property of individuals and restrict their freedom, at the point of a gun.
Critics argue that free markets mean a world of individuals pursuing their own selfish interests rather than looking out for the good of society. Many market defenders deny this fact or apologize for it. Worse, many entrepreneurs feel guilty not for their vices but for their virtues, that is, their ability to create wealth rather than steal it from others. Rand called this the “sanction of the victim.” If you accept your enemies’ evaluation of you, you accept undeserved blame, and thus give them the power to destroy you.
To the producers in society, Rand said, “Stop apologizing.” She understood that everyone benefits from a society of trade, and that the most productive people create the most benefits for all of us—not only in art and science but also in business. Creators of wealth deserve the same honor, and the same freedom, as creators of beauty or knowledge.
So why, with the fall of Soviet bloc communism and the manifest failures of welfare states, do leftists who claim to want to help the poor still oppose the free market? Rand understood that many of these critics are motivated primarily by envy and resentment of the productive people who flourish in the market. Their failings are not intellectual; they’re moral.
Rand understood that when leftists could no longer justify their anti-capitalist bigotry based on facts and reason, they would simply abandon facts and reason. And sure enough, many offer empty emotional outbursts: “We’re victims! It’s the duty of you selfish exploiters to care for us!” Academic nihilists and post-modernists assault the minds of their students by maintaining that facts and reason are simply prejudices perpetuated by the evil ruling class.
Rand offers a much-needed antidote to today’s attacks on liberty. She understood that reality is objective, that we discover the truth by using our minds, not our adrenal glands, and that only when we defend liberty based on the right of each individual to his or her own life can we ensure a truly human society.

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Edward Hudgins

About The Author:

Edward Hudgins is the former director of advocacy for The Atlas Society, the author of numerous Atlas Society commentaries, and the editor of several books on politics and government policy. He is now research director for the Heartland Institute. He has also worked at the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, and Joint Economic Committee of Congress.

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