The writers at The Washington Post would have us believe that Donald Trump’s cabinet picks resemble heroes from the pages of Ayn Rand’s novels (“The Daily 202: Ayn Rand-acolyte Donald Trump stacks his cabinet with fellow objectivists“). As a best-selling novelist and philosopher, Ayn Rand authored both fiction (Atlas Shrugged, We The Living, and The Fountainhead) and non-fiction (Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Philosophy: Who Needs It, and The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism) books.
Most people are aware of Trump’s beliefs, but what of Ayn Rand’s?
What did Ayn Rand believe?
Ayn Rand was an advocate of free trade
Quoting Rand: “The essence of capitalism’s foreign policy is free trade—i.e., the abolition of trade barriers, of protective tariffs, of special privileges—the opening of the world’s trade routes to free international exchange and competition among the private citizens of all countries dealing directly with one another.”
In her view, countries do not trade; people do.
Ayn Rand was an advocate of voluntary trade for mutual gain and benefit in both material and spiritual values. Quoting from Atlas Shrugged: “The principle of trade is the only rational ethical principle for all human relationships, personal and social, private and public, spiritual and material. It is the principle of justice.” She correctly observed that such a voluntary trade is a win-win situation.
Ayn Rand was also for trade embargoes against dictatorships.
Ayn Rand was for immigration of rights-respecting individuals
Ayn Rand was for liberal immigration, especially for productive individuals (she would have no limits on H-1B visas), though she would oppose the immigration of those physically hostile to individual rights, i.e., card-carrying communist revolutionaries and Islamic terrorists.
Quoting from Facets of Ayn Rand:
ARI: Can you give a specific example of when she responded angrily to a question?
MARY ANN: Someone asked her for her views on immigration, if she thought it was a good thing. And she got indignant immediately at the very idea that anyone might be opposed to immigration, that a country might not let immigrants in. One of the things she said in her answer was, “Where would I be today if America closed its doors to immigrants?” That really hit home; I’m sure everyone there realized that she would not have survived in Soviet Russia, that a person with her ideas would have died in prison, somewhere in Siberia. In her answer, she was defending people who were seeking freedom and a better life. And I think she was assuming that immigrants would be like she was—ready and able to make their own way, accepting help if voluntarily given by individuals but not expecting government handouts. But it was clear that she was angry at the idea, not at the person asking the question.
I heard people saying things like “I had no idea what I was really advocating.” Ayn was teaching the students the importance of analyzing their ideas, of understanding what was implicit in what they had been taught to believe and why it was wrong and often evil.
CHARLES: I’d like to add two points here. One is that her expressions of anger were the exception, not the rule. Two, they were often followed by applause from the audience—because the listeners were inspired by hearing someone speaking up for and defending what was right and good. They had heard, over and over again, mealy-mouthed speakers afraid to take a position—or suggesting that there are always two sides to a question —or that nothing is black and white. To have been subjected to those attitudes from childhood on up, and then to hear Ayn Rand take a firm position and defend it with conviction—this was a cause for cheering. The audience response was not only to the content of her ideas, but to her manner of expressing them. She was medicine for the soul.
MARY ANN: All those adults who taught us never to get angry, or if we did, not to express it, to hide our emotions when we were offended or felt we were being treated unjustly, to remain calm, to maintain an even keel, for God’s sake, don’t blow up, no matter what—these people didn’t do us any favors by urging us to suppress, to live like glazed, non-reacting creatures.
Ayn Rand was a principled defender of free speech
Ayn Rand was a principled defender of free speech for both corporations speaking against statist policies, and misguided college students burning flags, as neither are violating the rights of anyone. Quoting Rand: “The communists and the Nazis are merely two variants of the same evil notion: collectivism. But both should be free to speak—evil ideas are dangerous only by default of men advocating better ideas.”
Ayn Rand was an uncompromising defender of a women’s right to abortion
Quoting Rand: “Abortion is a moral right—which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body?”
Ayn Rand was a non-militant atheist
Ayn Rand was a non-militant atheist, who was philosophically for reason as opposed to religious faith (“blind belief, belief unsupported by, or contrary to, the facts of reality and the conclusions of reason”) which she regarded as the “negation of reason.” Ayn Rand was an advocate of the separation of church and state.
Ayn Rand was for the sanctity of property rights
Ayn Rand was for the sanctity of property rights and would have nothing but contempt for Trump’s securing property via eminent domain. Quoting Ayn Rand: “The right to life is the source of all rights—and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life. The man who produces while others dispose of his product, is a slave.”
Ayn Rand was a radical for laissez-faire capitalism
Ayn Rand published a non-fiction book of essays on the subject called Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. Quoting Rand: “Capitalism has created the highest standard of living ever known on earth. The evidence is incontrovertible. The contrast between West and East Berlin is the latest demonstration, like a laboratory experiment for all to see. Yet those who are loudest in proclaiming their desire to eliminate poverty are loudest in denouncing capitalism. Man’s well-being is not their goal.”
The Post piece does mention these views occasionally, but takes no time to explore them and “connect the dots.” At other times The Post makes patently false claims, such as, “Roark, the character Trump says he identifies with, rapes a woman in The Fountainhead,” when, in fact, Ayn Rand described that scene as a “rape by engraved invitation,” i.e., consensual sex.
This is not to say that Rand would oppose all of Trump’s policy positions, but it is enough to show that Trump is not an Objectivist.
Ayn Rand advocated the supremacy of reason
Today Ayn Rand is recognized as the philosopher who revolutionized Aristotle’s nature-based, egoistic philosophy for life in the 20th century. (Those interested in a comprehensive academic treatment of Rand’s corpus should peruse A Companion to Ayn Rand (Blackwell Companions to Philosophy.)
Ayn Rand named her philosophy Objectivism, and she described it as follows: “My philosophy, Objectivism, holds that…”
- Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.
- Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses) is man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.
- Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.
- The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. The government acts only as a policeman that protects man’s rights; it uses physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use, such as criminals or foreign invaders. In a system of full capitalism, there should be (but, historically, has not yet been) a complete separation of state and economics, in the same way, and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.
Ayn Rand did not view individual rights as self-evident; instead, the concept of individual rights flowed from the fact that one’s survival and flourishing (life) in a social context requires the equal freedom to act by one’s mind (reason). Or, in her words:
“I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows. This—the supremacy of reason—was, is and will be the primary concern of my work, and the essence of Objectivism.”
Ayn Rand was opposed to the regressive left and the religious right
In Ayn Rand’s view, there are only two ways people can deal with each other: by force (physical coercion) or reason (peaceful persuasion). The job of the government is to use the first to protect the second. Rand regarded individual rights not as permissions to be regulated at government whim, but as inalienable. The government’s role is to protect individual rights by banning the initiation (starting) of physical force (which is the only way rights can be violated).
Ayn Rand’s opposition to government coercion is why those associated with the Alt-Right, and the equally bigoted Regressive-Left, despise and defame Ayn Rand: their vision of a government-regulated world requires the threat and initiation of physical force by the state. Both the Alt-Right and the Regressive-Left regard rights as alienable privileges to be violated and dispensed with as their ideology sees fit. To the Alt-Right and Regressive Left, Ayn Rand is a mortal enemy.
Being an Atlas Shrugged fan does not make one an Objectivist
Reading Atlas Shrugged does not make one an Objectivist any more than reading the Koran makes one a radical for Islam. How the Washington Post conflates Donald Trump’s anti-freedom policies with Ayn Rand’s philosophy boggles the mind. In their list of Trump cabinet picks, there is one real Ayn Rand hero — former BB&T CEO John Allison — whom Trump rejected.
If one wants to grasp Ayn Rand’s ideas in their totality, there is no better book then Leonard Peikoff’s Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand. One does not have to agree with the arguments in Dr. Peikoff’s book, but at least one will not be attacking a straw man. Only then can an honest, intelligent discussion of Ayn Rand’s benevolent, life-enhancing human “philosophy for living on earth” begin.
How would Ayn Rand regard President Trump?
How would Ayn Rand regard President Trump? I would be hesitant to speculate and put words into her mouth.
What she did leave behind is a set of writings and philosophical principles for each person to decide, based on the extent of and context of their knowledge.
In regards to how Objectivists, of today, fundamentally view the Trump election, this can range from negative to positive.
Resident philosopher at the Ayn Rand Institute Onkar Ghate sees a Trump electoral victory as a negative for America. Writes Ghate in “One Small Step for Dictatorship“:
“A Trump administration, if viewed out of the full context, may even enact some measures others and I would regard as positive, including improvements to the tax code and replacement of Obamacare with something less harmful. But it will be in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons. And even at this concrete level of policy, the Republican control of the presidency, the House and the Senate should give anyone pause who is concerned about, say, the campaign’s demonization of immigrants and of trade or the attempt to impose a Christian variant of Sharia law.”
For a less condemnatory view, read C. Bradley Thompson, professor of political philosophy and executive director of the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism, explain why Trump won the election in his essay Donald Trump and the Revolt of the Unseen and his So Much Winning: How Trump Became President.
Writes Professor Thompson:
“Our challenge is not to praise Trump’s virtues or to condemn his vices, but to understand why tens of millions of Americans voted for Donald Trump—the unlikeliest of candidates—to become the president of the United States.
“In his inaugural address, President Trump voiced a theme that ran throughout his campaign: “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.” Trump’s political genius was to find the lost, the forgotten, the dispossessed, and the invisible.
“Ironically, the billionaire from Manhattan became the voice of the Forgotten Man—the man who works hard, pays his taxes, supports his family, and volunteers in his community as a soccer coach and a Boy Scout leader. When Trump said “We will make America great again,” he spoke to the deepest aspirations of ordinary Americans who love their country but see it crumbling all around them. He waged war on their behalf.”