April 23, 2012 -- In the epilogue to Ayn Rand Nation , Gary Weiss (pictured below) shifts gears to tell the reader what he really thinks about Objectivism : that it is evil and nuts. He decries the “horrors” that would be visited on an America based in Objectivist moral and political ideas. The result is a tour through a leftist's confused view of capitalism, government, and self-interest.

Weiss's claims are too numerous to cover in complete detail at one shot, but they fall into three broad categories.
If the government does it, the government must do it.

Weiss writes: “In an Objectivist world, roads would go unplowed in the snows of winter, and bridges would fall as the government withdrew from the business of maintaining them—unless some private citizen would find it in his rational self-interest to voluntarily take up the slack by scraping off the rust and replacing frayed cables. Public parks and land, from the tiniest vest-pocket patch of green to vast expanses of the West, would be sold off to the newly liberated megacorporations. Airplane traffic would be grounded unless a profit-making capitalist found it in his own selfish interests to fund the air traffic control system.”
 
While Objectivism envisions a radical shrinkage in the government and the privatization of many activities that are currently government-run, this doesn't mean that all of those activities would cease. In fact, the government does many things now that ought to be done. They just don't need to be done by government.
 
Take maintaining bridges: currently, that's the task of various governments. (They often do a terrible job, as we can see in the rusting infrastructure of many U.S. states.) If the bridges were privatized, why wouldn't they be cared for? There are many privatized roads around the world. And there are many toll bridges already. 
 
What Objectivists argue for is a system wherein, if something is of value, people support it voluntarily, by choice. If you value woodlands, you pay for them, a la the Nature Conservancy or the American Prairie Reserve .
 
And as to air traffic control: Objectivism doesn't advocate anarchy. Just as property rights had to be extended to the airwaves to allow for the lawful development of the radio-spectrum, so air traffic control would need to be placed on a property-based footing as well. And really, couldn't the airlines just share the cost of a traffic-control system among themselves?
 
So it goes for many issues in Weiss's epilogue. We will have no education without public schools, apparently. And apparently public schools do a self-evidently great job at teaching kids efficiently. But that's just what they don't do, in fact.
A free market system favors the rich against the poor.

Weiss writes: “Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York would become like Cairo and Calcutta, with walled enclaves protecting the wealthy from the malnourished, uneducated masses outside.”

At root, Weiss's view of selfishness and altruism just partakes of the myth that confuses self-sacrifice with kindness and sees selfishness as a dog-eat-dog policy. That wasn't Rand's view.
Here are the top five freest economies in the world according to the Heritage Foundation's 2012 Index of Economic Freedom : Hong Kong (1st), Singapore (2nd), Australia (3rd), New Zealand (4th), and Switzerland (5th). They are the most open to business. They have the lowest taxes and the least burdensome regulations. Their business law is mostly clear and fair. Are they consistently libertarian? No. But they show what results are likely from more economic freedom. Are poor masses huddling in the streets there? Hardly.
 
Weiss has Cairo and Calcutta in mind, but Egypt (100th) and India (123rd) are rated “mostly unfree” by Heritage. So we see the economic fantasy-world in which Weiss lives: he sees rapacious capitalists at work in places where, for the most part, free-market capitalism is forbidden. Rapacious government and oppressive socialism are to blame, in fact.
Selfishness is the source of all evil.

Weiss's epilogue has an apt epigram, taken from Garson Kanin's play Born Yesterday: “The whole damned history of the world is a story of the struggle between the selfish and the unselfish! . . . All the bad around us is bred by selfishness. Sometimes selfishness even gets to be a cause, an organized force, even a government. Then it’s called Fascism.” Kanin wrote these words in 1944, at the height of World War Two, right around the time Ayn Rand published The Fountainhead and began work on Atlas Shrugged.
 
It's embarrassing that Weiss endorses these words without noting that Ayn Rand had a rebuttal for them point by point. “The world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrificing,” says Howard Roark in his Fountainhead trial speech. Rand identified the fascism of Kanin's day with tribalism. Hitler and Mussolini exalted the nation, not the individual. Fascism was pro-state and pro-war, not pro-business and pro-trade. Yet Weiss identifies that movement today with the Tea Party, its polar opposite.
 
And the root of all evil is unreason, Rand argued in Atlas Shrugged. Rand had looked at the disasters of the early 20th century, and at their root she found the failure to think. People placed faith in a deity, or faith in leader, or faith in a doctrine, above a clear-eyed look at the facts of human nature and the findings of science. 
 
At root, Weiss's view of selfishness and altruism just partakes of the myth that confuses self-sacrifice with kindness and sees selfishness as a dog-eat-dog policy. That wasn't Rand's view. Instead, she argued that only a rational concern for one's own life and happiness could form the lasting basis for peaceful, harmonious, and even kind relations among men. It is only when we understand that we are not each other's slaves that we can collaborate in the pursuit of happiness. But each of us lives his own life and experiences his own happiness. Thus rational selfishness—or the choice to live, as Rand put it— is really the starting point for all that is good.  

 
EXPLORE:

Three Myths About Ayn Rand by William R Thomas
More Myths About Rand's Ideas (various authors)
The Alan Greenspan Confession by William R Thomas
Was Ayn Rand ’s most famous and powerful follower brought low by objective evidence that the politics of Objectivism are wrong?
America's New Action Hero: Ayn Rand by William R Thomas
Explains why Rand 's ideas galvanized many in the Tea Party: she defined what is quintessentially American—individualism, self-authorship, achievement, and freedom.
 

> Return to Book Review: Ayn Rand Nation, by Gary Weiss .

 

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