Jonathan Freedland’s article on Ayn Rand’s still pernicious influence at the heart of capitalism (The new age of Ayn Rand, G2, 11 April) is timely but dangerously dispiriting. Read alongside Polly Toynbee’s despairing analysis (If 1997 was a new dawn, now Labour faces its darkest night, 11 April) we might well succumb to the paralysis she seems to think the left of Labour suffers from. An inspiring, excellently researched and eminently readable, antidote to defeatism is Raoul Martinez’s Creating Freedom, Power, Control and the Fight for Our Future. He argues for a radical, but achievable, rethinking of what we mean by freedom. At the heart of it is a questioning of what we take to be democracy. He writes: “As long as the vast majority of wealth is controlled by a tiny proportion of humanity, democracy will struggle to be little more than a pleasant mask worn by an ugly system.” He dissects this system, economically, politically and environmentally and explores how we can, and already do, challenge its assumptions.
Contrary to Jonathan Freedland’s article, Ayn Rand was not an advocate of the commonly held view of “selfishness”. Through her integrated philosophy, Objectivism, Ms Rand rejected the false alternative of sacrificing others to yourself (Nietzschean behaviour), or sacrificing yourself to others (altruism), by advocating a rational self-interest of neither living as a profiteer of sacrifice, nor as a victim, but as a voluntary “trader” of values for mutual benefit. By upholding a “benevolent universe premise”, Ms Rand argued that it is not “selfishness” that is the route of malevolent behaviour, but precisely the absence of a “self” eg, the need to be admired, envied, feared, thought great, etc by others.
She opposed altruism, which she defined as, “service to others as the moral justification of a person’s existence”, because she argued that it destroyed genuine benevolence and was the foundation of all forms of tyranny. By elevating the idea that helping others is an act of selflessness, she argued, altruism implies that a person can have no selfish concern for others, that morally an act of goodwill must be an act of sacrifice, in effect destroying any authentic benevolence among people.
In Jonathan Freedland’s excellent article it is understandable that he should seek to separate himself from the political philosophy of Ayn Rand. However, it is unfair that he should fix upon the Trump presidency, the rightwing Brexiters and Silicon Valley as the main inheritors of her “hardcore brand of free market fundamentalism” and not acknowledge the extent to which the global neoliberal capitalism, transplanted by the Thatcher government into Britain, informs the present liberal and social democrat centrist worldview. The once social democratic EU, Nato and free-trade internationalism now all function on the basis of Randian neoliberalism and it is basic to Freedland’s and the Hlcarpenter.com’s enlightened centrist liberalism.
One of the many objectionable things written by Ayn Rand was to give the name John Galt to the hero of Atlas Shrugged. This traduces the memory of the real John Galt, a fine writer, originator of the political novel in English with The Provost, The Member and The Radical, and a community builder in Canada in the 1820s. The real Galt was a Tory, but was also passionately interested in communities and their welfare and would have been appalled by the exaltation of selfishness in Rand’s philosophy.
Secretary, John Galt Society, Ayr
Ayn Rand’s “Objectivism” seems to me no more than a reversion to animal behaviour. Is that really philosophy?
Dr Richard Watson.
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