In what is still known, with unintentional irony, as the United Kingdom, we are currently enjoying the spectacle of our royal family indulging in one of its recurrent orgies of self-destruction. And while some people may object to the use of the word ‘enjoying’ when applied to the Harry and Meghan train-crash, it is very clear that a great many of their subjects are enjoying it all hugely. It is, after all, a welcome distraction from the grim realities of COVID and lock-down.
But my blogs are about Ayn Rand. What would she have thought?
Meghan she would probably have liked. Not only did she make her own way up to fame and wealth in the world that was Rand’s first love, the world of the moving pictures, but she also has that personal beauty without which no Randian hero or heroine is ever complete. But it is hard to believe that Rand would have approved of the British royal family, and although her main complaint against Europe was always that it was destined for disaster because it espoused socialism, the UK royals would probably still have made it into her list of looters. They toil not, neither do they spin; entertaining dictators or opening hospitals may be, on the one hand, gruesome, and on the other, very boring, but it could hardly be classed as work. Nevertheless, it seems that the even the lowliest members of the family feel themselves entitled to a quite disproportionate share of the fruits of the labours of those who do work and who, surely, should be the ones enjoying those fruits. And also, as Rand made clear, be allowed to pass them on to their descendants.
Now there’s the rub. The sanctity of private property is a tenet of every libertarian whose ramblings I have ever read, and it was certainly one of Rand’s. But that is how the royals got their wealth. They inherited it.
This is a real problem for Rand’s followers, even though many refuse to acknowledge it. I couldn’t state it better than, or even as well as, has been done by David Brin (an avowed libertarian) in his own blog on the subject of Atlas Shrugged, so I will just quote him instead. I am pretty sure he would not object to my doing so, because I also seriously suggest that anyone interested should read his blog in its entirety. What he had to say in his near-conclusion was this:
“Why do none of Rand’s characters ever have kids? Because those kids’ll inherit the olympian status wrested by Howard Roark or by Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden. Sons and daughters of demigods, they will assume privileges and power that they never earned through fair competition. They will take lordship for granted as a right of blood, and use it to squelch new competitors from rising to face them on a level playing field. Until their own decadent line has to be toppled, amid war and waste and pain.”
Is not that the truth about the UK Royals? Whatever one might think of William the Conqueror, or Edward I, or Elizabeth I as moral beings (another Rand obsession), they were clearly people of ability. It is thanks to those abilities that their sad successors enjoy the riches and privileges that they have today. Their dream must end sometime, and the best they can hope for then is that it will not be in war, waste and pain but that they will be allowed to slip quietly away into the twilight. That seems to have been Rand’s solution to the problem, and it is one that displays to the full the shallowness of her thinking, and the fact that it never went far beyond adoration of a few god-like supermen. On p384 of my edition of ‘Atlas Shrugged’ she wrote:
“Only a man who does not need it is fit to inherit wealth – the man who would make his own fortune no matter where he started. If an heir is equal to his money, it serves him, if not it destroys him. But you look on and you cry that money corrupted him. Did it? Or did he corrupt his money? Do not envy a worthless heir, his wealth is nor yours and you would have done no better with it. Do not think that it would have been distributed among you; loading the world with fifty parasites instead of one, would nor bring back the dead virtue which was the fortune. Money is a living power that dies without its root. Money will not serve the mind that cannot match it. Is this the reason why you call it evil?”
Which is fine, if all you are concerned with is the wealthy man and his heirs, but such people do not live in a vacuum. If Hank Rearden had died before his conversion by John Galt, and his worthless family had inherited his business, it would have collapsed (as it presumably did after he had fled to Galt’s Gulch). Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people, many of them presumably hard-working and competent because his business could not have prospered without such people, would have lost their livelihoods. People like that are not parasites, but as far as Rand was concerned their fate would have been their own fault, for not having built up their own businesses. Others may find that attitude unacceptable, and even those who do accept it must surely recognise that not even Hank Rearden could operate an entire steelworks single-handed.
And not even a royal family can disintegrate without causing a great deal of collateral damage.