Whenever I find myself wondering whether there are still actually people who take Ayn Rand and her philosophy seriously, LinkedIn is almost bound to come to my rescue and assure me that there are. So it was with the post below, which appeared a few days ago, which centres on a misquotation from John Galt’s tirade in Atlas Shrugged…
The LinkedIn post that started a train of thought
Scary, perhaps. And as a prediction (“your society is doomed”), undeniably true. Even if the current corrupt and incompetent Tory government were able to maintain itself in power for billions of years, the death of the solar system would inevitably bring it to a merciful end.
Of course, Rand was not thinking in those terms. She was predicting doom on a much shorter time scale, but that is not much of a prediction either. Even on more human time scales all societies come to an end at some stage. For her prediction to have merit, it would have to be the ills that she describes that bring societies down.
It can happen, but these have not, historically, been the only reasons. Czarist Russia, in which Rand was brought up, had all those ills, but it was actually reasonably stable in 1914. It might have survived for a great deal longer if it had not been for something rather different. There was too much power concentrated in too few hands, and if a stupid action was proposed by those in charge, there is little to prevent it happening. Although it began with Austria Hungary attacking Serbia, it was the German decision to support Franz-Josef that turned it into a pan-European and eventually global conflict. If George and Nicholas had been a little bit nicer to their cousin Wilhelm when they were younger, they might have been able to persuade him to call the whole thing off. As it was, it was the appalling losses suffered by the Russian armies that eventually persuaded the Russian people that the time had come to get rid of the Romanovs.
Historically hubris has been as destructive as corruption. Napoleon and Hitler were both led by a series of easy victories into thinking that invading Russia would be a good idea (it never has been), Italy under Mussolini hastened to grab a bit of France after the heavy lifting had been done by the Wehrmacht, and Japan thought it could get away with an attack on the United States. Until their rulers went mad, these were societies that were, economically at least, doing quite reasonably well. Corruption in the body politic is undeniably a bad thing, but its effects are far more easily corrected than military adventurism. If the Russian people decide to get rid of Putin, the trigger is far more likely to be unacceptable military losses in the Ukraine than the famously all-pervading corruption of the Russian state.
But enough of dubious history. It is hard to disagree with Rand’s choice of targets, the more interesting question is why do people think it worthwhile to quote her when attacking them? Presumably because the quoter thinks that doing so adds strength to their argument, but those targets have been attacked by better and wiser people than Rand for some three millennia at least. There is no originality there, and where Rand failed completely was in prescribing solutions. Her prescription for a successful state, as described in Atlas Shrugged, is to have it run by a small number of super-intelligent and super-competent individuals backed by the coercive powers of the police, the army and the judiciary. We have seen states where that coercion has been exerted, usually by individuals who are, in their own minds bout only there, also super-intelligent and super-competent.
Perhaps the Rand-wagon is beginning to run out of steam. A few years ago the comments on a post like the one reproduced above would have been 90% adulatory, but in the thread that followed this one the pro-Rand and anti-Rand factions appeared to be almost equal.
One can hope that this is a trend.