Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Racialist Confronts Ayn Rand: Objectivism and the Rebirth of Implicit Whiteness

by David Haenke

I. Ayn Rand and the Whites
Ayn Rand’s work and life (and the cult which she formed around her ideas – ‘The Collective’) present a number of themes which are of interest to the nationalist intellectual: Jewishness, Anglo-Saxon-ness, neoliberalism, Nietzscheanism, cultism, individualism, Modernist architecture, aesthetics… Her political stances late in her life are of interest to us as well: she became increasingly conservative, if not reactionary, by the early 1970s, and denounced, via her polemical essays, the New Left, the student movement, feminism, environmentalism, hippie-ism and ‘Black Power’, and her vitriolic denunciations of these tendencies – especially the hippie movement – are amusing and make a good few points, and are to be recommended for that reason. Regarding Rand’s work as a whole, some (such as Gregory Johnson, of Counter-Currents Publishing) believe that certain of Rand’s ideas and books can be co-opted to ‘white nationalism’ (whatever ‘white nationalism’, in this instance, may be).
But Rand is a problematic writer – and figure – for any intellectual, nationalist or non-nationalist, and the more one knows about her, the more problematic she becomes. My own experience is as follows. I came across Rand over ten years ago after reading an essay on her and Atlas Shrugged (1957) in Colin Wilson’s classic (but now regrettably out of print) book of literary criticism, Eagle and Earwig (1965) and after that, read both of her two great novels – Atlas- and The Fountainhead (1943) – in succession and enjoyed them a great deal. I then left the books on the shelf for a number of years. Then the movie The Watchmen (2009) came out (an adaptation of the DC comics series of the same name). One of the characters in The Watchmen – Rorschach – was based on two other comic book characters (called ‘Mr A’ and ‘The Question’) who were both fedora-wearing vigilantes and devotees of the Randian philosophy of Objectivism. The Question and Mr A had been created in the 1960s by Steve Ditko, the brilliant, eccentric, reclusive co-creator of Spiderman for Marvel Comics: Ditko was a follower of Rand’s philosophy and went on to produce a number of comic books which are propaganda for Rand and Objectivism. Because of the hoopla around The Watchmen movie and Ditko in 2009, I picked up Rand’s novels again and delved into her non-fiction (which is mostly polemical ranting), and read more about her life in these biographies: Barbara Branden’s The Passion of Ayn Rand (1986), Nathaniel Branden’s Judgement Day: My Years With Ayn Rand (1999) and Jennifer Burns’ Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right (2009). My earlier enthusiasm for Rand and her novels was somewhat tempered by reading these books, and any naive admirer who takes Rand and her ideas at face value will be taken by surprise by the revelations of the less elevated side of her character – and those of her followers. (Perhaps it’s similar to someone being an admirer of the science fiction of L. Ron Hubbard and not knowing much about Hubbard’s life).
Regarding the politics: what bearing does Rand’s life and work have to nationalism? Rand promulgated a (in her view) water-tight philosophy, or pseudo-philosophy, called Objectivism, which is neoliberal (or, as the Americans would say, libertarian) and definitely non-fascist and non-racialist; and, being a Jewish-Russian intellectual, she wrote many polemics against Nazis, fascists, dictators, racialists, Southern segregationists, and so forth. This neoliberal and anti-racist philosophy tied in perfectly, according to her followers, with her fiction: they state that all the heroes and heroines in her novels and plays behave in a perfectly correct Objectivist manner. I myself don’t believe that this is entirely true: one can’t sum up Rand’s characters – or stories – by Objectivism alone, and this becomes evident the more we look at the Objectivist philosophy and when we discover that Objectivism, and certain of the Randian heroes’ values, morals, behaviour, emotions, are at odds. Rand believed that her heroes and heroines were ‘rational’, but much about them doesn’t strike me as being rational in the conventional sense of the word. (I think most of the concepts Rand speaks about – ‘reason’, ‘rationality’, even ‘reality’ – have to be put in quotation marks, because she doesn’t exactly take these words to mean what we take them to mean).
It’s for this, then, that we can put Rand’s characterisations of her philosophy, and the characterisations made by her (often sycophantic) followers, to one side when we attempt to come to a definition of what Rand is. Henceforth, Trevor Lynch of Counter-Currents makes these comments, in a review of the 2011 movie adaptation of Atlas-:
 Although Rand opposed racial nationalism on philosophical grounds (with a sentimental exception for Zionism, of course), there is still much of value in her novels for racial nationalists. Rand started out as a Nietzschean, and her novels offer powerful defenses of aristocracy and critiques of egalitarianism, democracy, mass man, and mass society. All these elements are in tension with her later philosophy of reason, individualism, and capitalism. Indeed, Rand felt the need to reframe, revise, or simply suppress her earlier, more Nietzschean writings. But the “sense of life” of her novels is so in keeping with the spirit of fascism that her first novel We the Living was made into a movie under Mussolini, a fact that Rand later obfuscated with tall tales and a revised version of the novel. (The Italian We the Living , by the way, remains the only good film adaptation of a Rand novel.)…
Atlas Shrugged, moreover, lends itself to a racial interpretation. Atlas Shrugged is about how a creative and productive minority is exploited by an inferior majority because of the acceptance of a false moral code (altruism) that beatifies the weak and pegs the worth of the strong to how well they serve their inferiors. When one asks “What is the race of Atlas?” it all falls into place. The Atlas that upholds the modern world is the white race, which is being enslaved and destroyed by the acceptance of a false moral code (racial altruism) that teaches that non-whites fail to meet white standards only because of white wickedness, and that whites can only expiate this racial guilt by giving their wealth and power and societies to non-whites…
Rand’s aesthetic is deeply fascist—and Socialist Realist—with its emphasis on man’s heroic transformation of nature through science, technology, and industry. Rand also had a taste for Nordic types. All of her heroes are tall, lean Nordics. Rand, born Alissa Rosenbaum, was not…
On that note, one of the of the most astonishing things about Rand’s fictional world is how white it is. There are no African-Americans in her novels (if they are, they have escaped me). This, combined with Rand’s famous penchant for leggy, Anglo-Saxon heroines and tall, lean handsome Anglo-Saxon heroes, could be construed as an implicit racialism – in much the way Tolkein’s novels (and the film adaptations by Peter Jackson) were. Kevin MacDonald calls this ‘implicit whiteness’ – that is, certain TV shows and films, with a mostly all-white cast, appeal to white audiences because of a subconscious racial, cultural and national identification in the viewer. (This crosses over to popular music, as well: American Country music is obviously aimed at a white audience, but so is heavy metal as well. Metal music more or less sticks to one basic theme – Europe in the Dark Ages, or medieval period – and remains a white, male, European phenomenon). The appeal of Rand’s work is in part due to implicit whiteness.
One has to make a distinction between implicit and explicit whiteness. The excellent American TV show, Breaking Bad (2008-2012), makes heroes out of rather ordinary, middle-class white Americans and villains out of Mexican immigrants (who are uniformly portrayed as either degenerate, evil, criminal or stupid, or all four). The two heroes of the series are white everymen, as evinced by their surnames – Jessie Pinkman and Walter White – and, obviously, the scriptwriters, producers and directors are throwing this explicit racialism, or at least, hinting at its existence, in order to titillate the (mostly white, I imagine) audience. The creators of the show are self-conscious: that is, they are aware of what they are doing. In contrast, I don’t believe that Rand knew what she was doing. Rand was merely recording, more or less faithfully, the world she lived in. Her leggy heroines and square-jawed, chiselled Nordic heroes with cruel mouths were a product of her milieu and so weren’t an instance of explicit whiteness.
To get a good idea of this milieu of Rand’s, one should sit down and watch the great TV series Mad Men (2007-2012), which attempts to duplicate everything about early 1960s America – right down to ashtrays, women’s gloves and racial attitudes – to the last detail. Most of the series is set in Manhattan (Rand was a Manhattanite, and extolled, in her fiction, New York city as the greatest city in the world and the acme of human evolution) and sometimes in Los Angeles. The latter is shown to be bathed in a golden sunlight and comes across as an Aryan paradise, and is achingly beautiful. It becomes clear from watching the show that the producer and writer of the series (Matthew Weiner, a Jewish-American) is a great admirer, like Rand, of white America, WASP-dom and sturdy Anglo-Saxon men and ice-cold Hitchcock blondes, and that he wrote and produced the series as a kind of love letter to that past. It’s now, in 2013, hard to understand, but Rand’s New York – a white city, where Afro-Americans were almost invisible, and any immigrants were white European, where the couture was ultra-stylish – was exactly like the New York portrayed in the show. Rand, I think, took this whiteness and all it entailed for granted: she probably believed that it would never change – which is why she reacts with such shock and revulsion to the social and political changes which took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It would have been quite a disappointment for her to see her beloved America (of the stylish Don Drapers) change, almost overnight, to one of counter-culture ‘hippies’ and ‘yippies’ (many of the latter Jewish-American) and rioting Afro-Americans putting cities to the torch.
In that connection, even after the counter-cultural revolution of the 1960s, it took a long time to change the racial composition of America, and to stamp out the nordicism and Aryanism out of the American popular culture (and the political culture – it’s speculated, today, that Reagan couldn’t have won the US presidential election in 1980 with today’s racial composition of the electorate). Recently, I saw an episode, broadcast in 1981, of the great American TV soap Dallas (1978-1991) which shows a pool party for young people at the Southfork residence. A handsome, impoverished young medical student (with a seriously fashion-deficient eighties-era mullet), Mitch Cooper (Leigh McCloskey), is invited there but upon arrival finds that all the people there are rich, unlike himself. He vents his fury at them when he’s asked to participate in a pool-wrestling match for $50. (For those who want to know, a pool-wrestling match is when young men have young women in bikinis sit on their shoulders and wade into the pool: the mounted women attempt to topple one another and push one another into the water). Such sums of money shouldn’t be squandered on frivolous entertainments, he thunders: he knows the value of money because he works hard for it, at two jobs (one as a waiter, the other as a parking valet). (Incidentally, his dogmatism and unwillingness to compromise, his inability (bordering on being an obnoxious character trait) to fit in with other people in certain situations, his prudery, makes him a kind of quasi-Randian hero). As you can imagine, all the young men there at this event are in excellent physical shape (without the aid of steroids or human growth hormone) and have that bronzed Californian look about them, and the young women are pretty, long-legged and voluptuous and untoned (as women of that time tended to be). Now, in 2013, the viewer can only guffaw at Mitch’s righteous indignation at the young, beautiful rich people – because, being bronzed, blonde, blue-eyed and a handsome specimen himself, he looks exactly like them (and is wolf-whistled at by the young women when he walks in). He is the Dallas, Texas, version of a Howard Roark or John Galt, and lives in an attractive milieu (one can imagine a F. Scott Fitzgerald writing a paen to these rich young beautiful folk of the South in the 1970s and 1980s). Suffice to say, Obama’s America today is different: were the same scene shot today, we’d have a Hispanics, a Jewish-American homosexual, a kick-boxing black lesbian, a transsexual, perhaps a one-legged dwarf, all thrown in; that means no WASP demi-gods and demi-goddesses, no beautiful young white women in bikinis… The culture, and with it, the values, have moved on. The pool party in Dallas, Texas in 1981, and the WASP Manhattan in the 1960s, were, from Obama-liberal’s point of view, the embodiment of evil in American culture, and have to be destroyed: the whites have to be replaced by non-whites. Which is why, in the second part of the Atlas- adaptation, Atlas Shrugged II: The Strike (2012), the character Francisco d’Anconia, a blue-eyed Chilean who is the descendant of Castilian-Spanish nobility, is played by the conspicuously Mestizo Esai Morales. (A minor character in Atlas-, Eddie Willers, is played by an Afro-American). Such are the times. At the recent presidential inauguration, a gay Hispanic recited a poem, and the president made a speech in which he held up the homosexual rioters at Stonewall as embodiments of the American ideal.
II. Ayn Rand and Afro-Americans
Colin Woodard makes a convincing argument in American Nations: A History of the Eleven Regional Cultures of North America (Viking Press, 2011), that the USA is composed of not one nation but ten. New York and its surrounding suburbs is one such nation, which Woodard calls ‘New Amsterdam’. Founded by apolitical Dutch merchants, and settled, later, by Jews and outcasts and cast-offs from Western and Eastern Europe, the ethos of this nation – or rather, city-state – is commerce (unwilling to make waves, it acceded to the 1776 revolt against the English, and took the side of the Union in the American Civil War, only reluctantly). New Amsterdam doesn’t have any sense of group identity – unlike Woodard’s other ‘nations’, e.g., Yankeedom, the Deep South, the Left Coast – and is truly a ‘nation of immigrants’. It is here that Rand found her spiritual home. As a Russian Jewess immigrant, and a neoliberal, she fit right in.
The only trouble with the New Amsterdam-ers are that they are completely oblivious to the rest of the country – they don’t understand that the rest of America isn’t like New York. Years ago, the Jewish-American mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, launched a Gestapo-style ‘stop and search’ law enforcement program, which involves stopping and searching (primarily, it seems) young Afro-Americans for weapons. Now, Bloomberg, with sublime New Amsterdamer arrogance, believes that New York gun control laws can be extended to the rest of the US – e.g., to the Deep South and the heavily redneck, white cracker ‘Greater Appalachia’ (the name given by Woodard to this region). We see that same New Yorker solipsism in in Mad Men. The Manhattanite characters speak of the Southerners, at the time engaged in their fight against desegregation, with contempt and disdain, and incomprehension, even though, at the same time, they are portrayed as being unconsciously racist and oblivious of the black people (and, by extension, the “oppression” of black people) in their own New Amsterdam nation-state.
All this has to be kept in mind when one reads Rand’s comments on race and immigration. As a New York Jewess, and an immigrant, of course she is going to be for immigration. That doesn’t necessarily mean, though, she was in favour of white racial replacement, which manifests itself in our culture in a number of ways (e.g., replacing d’Anconia with a Mestizo, Eddie Willers with an Afro-American). Rand died in 1982, and if we are to take that prior-mentioned episode of Dallas from 1981 as a representative sample of the cultural ethos of that time (Rand was an ardent TV watcher) – then we wouldn’t be mistaken, I feel, in surmising that Rand just wouldn’t have understood white racial replacement, or, for that matter, the ascendancy of Barack Obama.
So, intellectuals of Rand’s generation grew up in a milieu of white ethnic homogeneity, which they took for granted: they considered it be a constant. Were they alive today, one would like to consult them and really drill down on the question of white racial replacement. Would Rand have approved of London, in 2013, being less than 50% British? Of immigrants from Africa and India displacing the British and becoming the new ethnic majority? What would Jean-Paul Sartre, who died in 1980, have thought of his beloved Paris becoming an African and Muslim majority city? (We’re not talking about a small African and Algerian quarter in Paris, which existed in Sartre’s time: we’re talking of an African and Arab majority pushing out the French). We know that Sartre was a Maoist, an inveterate radical, and so forth, but one has to ask what he really, really have thought.
Related to the question of white racial replacement is the (explosive) Afro-American question, which really is the main question in all of US politics. Rand wrote an essay denouncing the South, Racism (1963), one which is fairly typical of the times (interestingly, one finds that the essay starts out attacking the evil Southerners, and then ends up with a polemic against affirmative action, the civil rights movement and Black Power – one could look at it as a conservative reaction to the Afro-American civil rights cause, or an expression of Jewish-American disdain for the schwartzes, or both).
Rand didn’t take into consideration the argument of the anti-desegregationist, which was as follows: Afro-Americans are disproportionately inclined to crime, especially violent crime (robbery, rape and murder), more than whites; they are mendacious, and disproportionately reliant on the welfare system); they tend to be, when they get into politics, more corrupt than white people. The corollary of all this is that whites should distance themselves, as much as possible, from Afro-Americans, and that means segregation – and laws against miscegenation, because the characteristics of the Afro-American race are mostly genetic, the product of nature, not nurture.
Now, in 2013, we know that the anti-desegregationist, racialists and so-called white supremacists of the 1950s and 1960s lost. Rand, in her way, helped by writing her essay – but one shouldn’t make too much of that, and the fact that she was Jewish-American, because a vast array of forces (liberals, hippies, beatniks, humanist priests, communists, anarchists), Jewish and non-Jewish, were arrayed against the South, not only in America but overseas as well: the South had the entire world against it in the 1960s, and Rand’s essay – and all the essays of all the Jewish-American intellectuals, each and every one of whom opposed segregation – were merely a few of the last straws which broke the camel’s back.
But the question is, were the anti-desegregationist right about the Afro-American racial character? I won’t answer that question here because of reasons of political correctness. But, if we are to answer the question, we should look at the evidence: today’s American cities where Afro-Americans are the majority: East St. Louis, Illinois; Chicago, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan; Camden, New Jersey; and, in the south, Atlanta, Georgia; Birmingham, Alabama…
In that connection, the reader should really be advised to read Paul Kersey’s bog, Stuff Black People Don’t Like. Mr Kersey is the author of Escape from Detroit: The Collapse of America’s Black Metropolis (2012). If half of what Mr Kersey says is true, well then, these Afro-American cities are, to say the least, incommensurate with Objectivism and Randian values, and, indeed, they are incommensurate with neoliberalism as a whole. The economics alone in these cities is different from that of a free-market society, which is characterised by trust, the rule of law, freedom from corruption, respect for private property: instead of Adam Smith’s ‘Invisible Hand’, we have, in a city like Detroit, to use one of Mr Kersey’s highly memorable phrases, ‘The Highly Visible Black Hand’. Ayn Rand rails against, in her The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution (1971), the left-wingers who castigate ‘black capitalists’ for being sell-outs and ‘Uncle Toms’. I’m sure that, in those radical times (America in the late 1960s and early 1970s), there were plenty on the Left who were attacking ‘sell-out’ Afro-Americans who tried to better their position by getting into business: after all, this was the time of the Black Panthers, which was a self-declared Marxist organisation. But, in 2013, the ‘Black capitalists’ aren’t under attack from the Left: no, they are under attack from their fellow citizens – in Chicago, Detroit and other cities. It’s a brave Afro-American who dares set up shop in Chicago, a city which (as the crime statistics show) is more dangerous now than Afghanistan: he risks a bullet in the head or the back. (Mr Kersey’s blog recently reported that Chicago fast-food restaurants use bullet-proof glass to separate the patrons from the staff, and that the patrons receive their food through a kind of hatch in the glass barrier…).
One really wants a standard orthodox Objectivist to read Mr Kersey’s blog and formulate a response to it. How is Rand’s gospel of individualism, neoliberalism, reason, rationality, non-coercion, and so forth, meant to fix Detroit? The answer is, of course, that it can’t. But then, Objectivists, neoliberals, conservatives, understand all of this, and so do all American whites and for that matter Jewish-Americans. It’s why they prefer not to live in downtown Detroit or Chicago or Birmingham. It’s why (more often than not) they express resentment when their tax dollars being siphoned off in order to subsidise these cities; it’s why they seem to be so obsessed by the problems of socialism, big government, the demoralising effects of welfare, the freedom for whites to own guns to protect themselves from ‘criminals’ of an undefined race (or, conversely, the right of government to seize guns from ‘criminals’ of an undefined race) and so forth. They are talking in code. It’s an evasion and hypocrisy which infects every corner of American intellectual and political life. Objectivism ought to face up to it: after all, isn’t it a philosophy about acknowledging ‘reality’ and denouncing ‘evasion’ in all its forms? But it doesn’t, it prefers to talk in code like the rest of the mainstream American Right.
We can speculate, then, that when modern-day American Randians and Objectivists are denouncing ‘moochers’ and ‘looters’, they are really denouncing you-know-who. But this is a far cry from Rand, or at least, Rand’s original intentions, because, as we know from Rand’s novels, the evil socialists and looters – the Ellsworth Tooheys, Jimmy Taggarts, Oren Boyles, Wesley Mouches and the like – are all white. As Whitaker Chambers points out, they are mostly New Deal types straight out of the 1930s and 1940s – white liberals and socialists (and, incidentally, there is nary a Jewish-American among them). But one can give the ethic of Atlas- a racialist interpretation: that is, transpose the novel’s contrast of ‘producers’ and ‘parasites’ to the racially-divided and ideologically-divided America of the present – with the sober, white, middle-class Republican Party voters on one hand and the Obama-ites, the corrupt Detroit city councilmen and women, the Jesse Jacksons and Reverend Al Sharpes, on the other. Trevor Lynch, in his article, suggests that one can make such an transposition, and I find such a suggestion fascinating – and explosive. But that would be taking us far from Rand’s original intent.
III. Ayn Rand and Life
Ayn Rand is what I call a ‘vitalist’ intellectual – in the same tradition as Nietzsche, Henri Bergson, George Bernard Shaw, all thinkers who were of great interest to fascist intellectuals, and now to post-war nationalist intellectuals. Supposedly, the vitalists (especially Bergson and Nietzsche) were irrationalist, which should put them at odds with Rand, who is a rationalist. But this difference – if it is one, i.e., if these men really are ‘irrationalist’ – doesn’t have any bearing on their vitalism and Rand’s, both of which suffer from the same problems.
If a thinker makes a bad argument, he isn’t wrong, necessarily, in his conclusions – and vice versa. Darwin’s argument for evolution by natural selection in The Origin of the Species (1859) is flawless, but his theory of evolution by natural selection is not necessarily true – and a good many distinguished intellectuals didn’t think, at the time, that it was true. We should keep this in mind when looking at Rand’s philosophy. A few of her key arguments for her positions are bad, but does this badness necessarily invalidate her positions? Yes and no. Rand seems to have really believed that good ideas needed a rigorous argument, and that her conclusions were true because they flowed, indubitably, from premises which indubitably true (believing that the virtues of individualism, capitalism, selfishness, rationality and the rest were deducible from ‘axioms’ such as ‘A is A’, and so forth). I myself don’t share her biases: if someone makes a bad argument for something, that person may not necessarily be wrong.
So what is Rand’s main (vitalist) argument? Rand makes a distinction between mindless people and mindful ones, between those who don’t think – who refuse to use their reason, who evade, who fail, or refuse, to acknowledge ‘reality’ – and those who do. The distinction between the two types is a moral one: the evaders are bad, if not evil; the reason-users are good. ‘Life’, ‘living’, ‘survival’, are the sources of all human ideas of good. Man, alone of all the creatures, can choose to end his life or not, and hence ideas of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are a matter of choice. Man’s reason is his means of survival, his means of earning a living and his defence against predators and the elements. Tigers have claws, strength and speed, birds have wings, but man has only his mind. If he forgoes his use of reason, he forgoes his means of survival, and is pursuing death – the opposite of life, and thereby the opposite of all good. He is thereby immoral… The anti-reason types, the irrationalists, actually preach an ethic of death, of self-destruction, and are thereby evil.
This is the argument in the John Galt speech in Atlas-, and essays such as The Objectivist Ethics (1961) (of course, Rand does a lengthier, more detailed presentation of these theses than I do here). What is wrong with it?
If we reflect on it a little, we will see that many of the anti-reason types don’t simply don’t drop dead and die. A friend of mine told me that he was reading a volume of Rand on a Melbourne tram, when he was confronted by a drunken indigenous man who hassled him for money. My friend argued to me afterwards that the indigenous man – who, according to him, was a man of low intellect, little to no education, few prospects in life, and so forth, and definitely a ‘moocher’ – was, from the Objectivist point of view, anti-reason and thereby anti-life. In response to this, I argued that the man in question did eke out a survival, reason or no: a miserable existence, to be sure, but it was living. Either he didn’t use his reason, but survived nonetheless, or he did use it, like everyone else, and, consequently, couldn’t be classified as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Everyone has a pair of lungs, and uses them to breathe, and survive. One can’t make lung use as a basis of ethics: it’s tautologous to say that everyone uses lungs, just as they use their kidneys, liver, motor neurone system… The fact that the indigenous man in question uses his reason to survive is tautologous, just in the way that he uses his heart, lungs, liver, kidney, to survive. Just about everyone who is living is using their reason, then, and so consequently we can’t use this criterion to differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’.
We can see that – the survival of the ‘bad’ and ‘evil’ people – in Rand’s novels. The ‘anti-reason’ types – who are, consequently, ‘anti-life’ – actually do a fine job of living, i.e., the James Taggarts and Lillian Reardens. America itself, which, in Rand’s novel, becomes a broken country (under the sway of socialism and irrationality), experiencing (to put it mildly) a drop in its standard of living. Many people end up dying in famines and accidents, and so forth, but they do continue to survive. It’s a wretched existence, and all the bad guys in the novel who do live to the end (e.g., James Taggart) live a wretched existence, but it’s still survival. The anti-reason, irrationalist types don’t drop dead, like birds which have been infected with a deadly disease and then fall, like stones, from the air in mid-flight…
The author Michael Prescott puts this much more succinctly and elegantly than I, in a post entitled ‘Ayn Rand and “Is-Ought”‘, at:
Rand equivocates – that is, she uses the same term to mean two different things. The term in question is “life,” which she takes as the standard for all moral values. Early in her argument “life” means “biological survival,” but later (when applied to humans) it suddenly means “the life proper to a rational being.” She has smuggled in the concept of what is “proper,” what “ought” to be, when all she is entitled to talk about is what “is.”
Now, it could be maintained that Rand is not equivocating because, when talking about humans, she established that reason is the way – in fact, the only way – for humans to survive. Thus a life “proper to a rational being” would be the only possible way for such a being to live at all.
Objectivists do, in fact, make this argument. Ayn Rand, they say, proved that reason is man’s only means of survival.
I take issue with this. Ayn Rand did not prove any such thing; she merely asserted it. Her assertion, though accompanied by much rhetorical hand-waving, is not backed by any empirical evidence. Indeed, it is contradicted at many other points in Rand’s writings. For instance, she often inveighs against the irrationality of “savages” (her term). Yet “savages,” however irrational they may be, manage to survive and even sometimes to flourish. In certain circumstances, such as being stranded on a desert island, a “savage” would have a much better chance of surviving than his “civilized” counterpart. If “savages” can survive while being irrational, then rationality, however desirable it may be, is not essential to survival.
Or take an example closer to home. I would be considered irrational by Objectivists, since I hold many anti-Objectivist ideas and, even worse, am a former Objectivist who is now an apostate to the faith. Nevertheless, I am able to survive — and in fact earn a comfortable living at a job that gives me great creative satisfaction. If I am irrational, and if Rand’s assertion is correct, then how can I survive, much less flourish?
Indeed, how can anybody? How did humans ever make it through the Stone Age, or the Dark Ages, or other periods characterized by “irrationality,” at least in Objectivist terms? Given that Rand described even modern-day American society as “irrational,” presumably none of us should be surviving — yet we enjoy the highest standard of living in history.
Rand is apparently aware of this problem. She tries to solve it (or, I would say, evade it) by insisting that she is not advocating “survival at any price,” but only a worthwhile kind of survival, a survival that allows humans to achieve their creative and intellectual potential. This sounds persuasive, since most of us want to do more than just survive; we want to thrive.
But merely stating what we want to do is not equivalent to a reasoned argument – and Rand is not logically entitled to make this particular jump. She has previously argued that biological survival — survival of the fittest, which can mean nothing but “survival at any price” — is the standard for all living things. To be consistent, she must hold that “survival at any price” is the standard for humans as well. To switch to a different standard in midargument is unjustified, no matter how much polemical firepower she employs.
What Rand might have said is that reasoning is among the various modes of survival available to humans, and that in some (not all) circumstances it is the most useful mode. But this more nuanced approach is foreign to her absolutism.
Closely related to this is an additional objection which can be extended to all the vitalist philosophies, and not just Rand’s, i.e., the philosophies of George Bernard Shaw, Nietzsche and others. A simple organism like an amoeba is alive, is an instance of life, so surely we should ‘affirm’ it, say ‘yea’ to it? But, if life, living, and so forth, is the source of all good, how can we differentiate – in terms of value – between an amoeba and a human being? How are human beings superior to the amoeba? Indeed, how can we say that one human being is superior, morally more good, possessing of a higher value, than another?
Evola takes a similar line of criticism in his writing on Nietzsche in Ride the Tiger: A Survival Manual for Aristocrats of the Soul (1961). Reading Rand, it becomes especially pertinent, because, after all, her books are about nothing but differentiations. Take this passage from The Fountainhead:
Roark stood on the cliff, by the structure, and looked at the countryside, at the long, grey ribbon of the road twisting past along the shore. An open car drove by, fleeing into the country. The car was overfilled with people bound for a picnic. There was a jumble of bright sweaters, and scarves fluttering in the wind; a jumble of voices shrieking without purpose over the roar of the motor, and overstressed hiccoughs of laughter; a girl sat sideways, her legs flung over the side of the car; she wore a man’s straw hat of slipping down to her nose and she yanked savagely at the strings of a ukulele, ejecting raucous sounds, yelling “Hey!”. These people were enjoying a day of their existence; they were shrieking to the sky their release from the work and the burdens of the days behind them; they had worked and carried the burdens in order to reach a goal – and this was the goal.
He looked at the car as it streaked past. He thought that there was a difference, some important difference, between the consciousness of this day in him and in them. He thought that he should try to grasp it. But he forgot. He was looking at a truck panting up the hill, loaded with a glittering mound of cut granite.
Shouldn’t the life-worshipping vitalist look at these revellers in the passage above as an instance of ‘life’, noisy, Dionysian, affirmative ‘life’? But it’s obvious that Rand finds them offensive, and clearly contrasts their conduct, their attitudes, their typology (their species, even) and Roark’s.
I understand this differentiation. I often feel it when I come across certain types of immigrant in the streets of Melbourne: the noisy, jabbering, gesticulating man, shabbily dressed, yelling on a mobile phone in his own language at the top of his voice; he is fecund, this type of man, and is always accompanied by an equally ugly and shabbily-dressed (and often pregnant) wife, pushing a pram, with little miniature versions of themselves running about. What I feel for this sort of man is a revulsion, and a sense of distance – that he is, compared to many of my own kind, on a lesser plane – and that he certainly doesn’t belong in this country. What’s more, I feel that he is an ‘insult to Life’ (‘Life’ with a capital ‘L’) and everything good. Fellow whites of mine who think that his presence here is ‘good for the economy’ are just ignoring the existential reality of this man, and, consequently, may as well be on another world. Unfortunately for me, however, such feelings, insights, sensations, are difficult to quantify – much more difficult than the numbers which appear in an economic model. The conservative blogger Steve Sailer has the same problem when he noted, in a blog post, that the ‘tackiness’ of Mexican immigrants to America ‘got him down’. Tackiness! Isn’t this a value-judgement? Of course it is.
But this is at the root of the problem. By all rights, I should celebrate the fecund, jabbering, gesticulating, avaricious denizens of the slums that this man came from as an instance of ‘Life’, the ‘Life Force’: but I can’t convince myself to. Rand has the same problem. She can’t condemn certain people for not using their reason, because they are: just about everybody is using their reason, otherwise, according to her logic, they wouldn’t be surviving. Which is why she constantly has to revert back to metaphors: ‘death’, ‘death in life’, are meant in the same way that we talk about ‘the death of a city’ (i.e., Detroit) – Detroit really isn’t dying (the citizens of it are very much alive and aren’t going anywhere soon), Detroit is undergoing a deterioration, a decline, from a previous state.
As Prescott points out, Rand and the Objectivists wanted their value-judgements, aesthetic judgements, moral judgements, political judgements, to be deducible about ‘axioms’ – ‘axioms’ which in turn came from ‘reality’. It seems that if such judgements didn’t have this quality, they wouldn’t be objective, what is the case, true whether one likes it or not. In turn, the people who disagreed with Objectivism and Rand, or who just didn’t live up to Rand’s preferred type, wouldn’t be guilty of ‘evading reality’. Indeed, the enemies of Objectivism wouldn’t end up meeting with a premature, sticky end – i.e., dying – as a result of their defying ‘reality’ and thereby chasing ‘destruction’ and ‘death’ (just like in the infamous train crash in Atlas-, in which several ‘irrationalist’, ‘whim-worshipper’ housewives, intellectuals, journalists, trade unionists meet a grisly end because of (it’s implied) their ‘irrational’, ‘evasive’ beliefs – by dying in the train, they suffering the punishment of angry God, a God we may identify with Rand’s ‘reality’).
I don’t have these same commitments, philosophically, as Rand, and I don’t believe that the distinction between the subjective and objective, in human beings, is so clear cut. I ask: aren’t the Randian heroes subjectivists, even spiritualists, who spend more time in the world of the imagination and the spirit than in the ugly, squalid and sordid world that confronts them? Aren’t Roark, Galt and the residents of Galt’s Gulch rejecting reality? Aren’t Roark (an architect) and Galt (an engineer and physicist) dwellers in the world of the subjective, the mind, rather than in the real?
It’s a truism that one sometimes can attain something by not trying to obtain it, or even working against it: in Buddhism, one may reach the elevated spiritual status of an enlightened one by in fact rejecting Buddha’s path to Buddhism; likewise, one may attain the blessed state of the residents of Galt’s Gulch – a kind of anarcho-capitalist Shangri-La, which is perhaps quasi-Buddhist as well – by rejecting ‘reason’, ‘reality’, and all the tenets of Objectivism…
One of the conclusions I draw from all this is that, for the nationalist movement to survive (metaphorically, that is), we in the movement need to be constantly making value-judgements – differentiating, not only between whites and the likes of ‘fecund immigrant man’ sketched out above, but also between the good and bad whites. Anything white, is good: this ‘axiom’ of the movement (in its present state) must be rejected and therefore we must cease being a lost-dog’s home for the refuse of white society, some of whom find acceptance in the movement that they wouldn’t find elsewhere in normal, non-political white society. If this is élitism, so be it…
IV. Ayn Rand today
There has been a revival of interest in Rand’s ideas in America since 2008 (or, at least, the perception of a revival – which, here, is the same thing). Why this revival? The answer has to do with the presidency of Barack Obama and the present political situation in America.
Quite a few conservative and Far right commentators have pointed out the similarities between Obama’s ideology and that of the African socialist dictators (Hunter Wallace has made an intriguing comparison between America today and the West African nation of Mali in the 1960s). This is true enough, but in my view the closest parallels are between Obama’s America and America during the time of the Reconstruction in the ten years after the American Civil War. During the period of Reconstruction, centralised, federal Yankee America attempted to impose, on the defeated South, what the Southerners called ‘Negro rule’. Corrupt Afro-American politicians, who went on to embezzle state finances, were put in to power, and outrageous welfare schemes (the ‘Freedman’s Bureau’), which saw disproportionate amounts of government money be allocated to Afro-Americans, were set up. At the same time, resistance groups – like the Klan, the White League, and others – appeared and tremendous grass-roots efforts were made by Southerners to elect pro-white, pro-segregation Democrats. Eventually, the North lost interest in its social engineering program in the South and withdrew, effectively allowing the South to make its own laws and treating it, de facto, as a separate nation. Now, in 2013, America finds itself in the same situation: Obama-ism is Yankeeism in new clothes. The 19th century Southern intellectuals always held that the abolitionism of the Yankee North was merely one plank of the Yankee platform – which was one of all sorts of destructive tendencies (feminism, socialism, anarchism, free love-ism, spiritualism, and endorsement of race-mixing between whites and Afro-Americans). The Yankees today adhere to a similar destructive (depending on your point of view) platform: gay marriage, lesbianism, marijuana legalisation, amnesty for illegal Mexican immigrants, compulsory ‘racial socialism’ and the high taxes needed to support it, the blocking of oil exploration and frakking, state subsidies of electric cars that don’t work, gun control, destructive lifestyles like that portrayed in (the Jewish-American) Lena Dunham’s hit TV show Girls (2012-), federal deficit-spending, dollar devaluations… Support for all this is not uniform throughout America: Yankees, New Yorkers, and Californians vote for this stuff; Southerners and those in the resource rich states of what Woodard calls ‘The Far West’ (Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Utah and others) don’t.
Race is intertwined with all of this, of course, but so is Obama’s socialist philosophy – which is, in Rand’s terms, the ‘gospel of need’, the philosophy of the ‘moocher’, the ‘bum’, the philosophy of ‘am I not my brother’s keeper?’. Obama’s socialist philosophy is also profoundly egalitarian – everything to him is about ‘fairness’: in his inauguration speech, Obama declared that the America idea was ‘equality’, which, as we on the Far Right know now, means to him reducing everything to the lowest common denominator, not just materially, but spiritually.
In addition to his calls for ‘fairness’, he constantly implores Americans to give amnesty to illegal immigrants, and more money to Afro-Americans and Hispanics, on the grounds of pity, compassion, brotherly love – the ethic which is the same as that of the ethic of the bad guys in Atlas-. If one re-reads Atlas-, one can see (well, at least I can see) the parallels between the Obama ideology and the evil ideology of the ‘moochers’ and ‘mystics’: the concordances hit one like a blow to the solar plexus. America is heading down a Randian track, and one can understand how right-wing, Republican-voting Americans (among them, white Southerners) vibrate in sympathy to Rand, even if they don’t, as conservatives and Christians, don’t agree with all of her ideas. Philosophy is meant to be true for all times and all places, but right now, Rand’s philosophy is an American thing.