Mike Kueber's Blog

August 3, 2012

“You didn’t build that” causes Ayn Rand to roll over in her grave.

Filed under: Issues,Philosophy,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 1:32 pm
Tags: , , ,

A couple of weeks ago, President Obama created a furor in the conservative community by telling “wealthy, successful Americans” that:

  • You may be smart, but “there are a lot of smart people out there.”
  • You may be hard working, but “there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.”
  • “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help….  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive….  If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.”

President Obama concluded his remarks by saying:

  • “The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together….  We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for president – because I still believe in that idea.  You’re not on your own, we’re in this together.”

All of these remarks, which could easily have been uttered by the villains in Ayn Rand’s masterpiece Atlas Shrugged, can be read in their fuller context in my 7/20 blog entry

Yesterday, while waiting in a doctor’s office during my son’s pre-college physical exam, I happened to read an essay by someone whose philosophy on life is different than President Obama’s.  The essay is titled “Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World,” and it was written by Ayn Rand in 1960.  

In the essay, Rand argues that three values that have tormented mankind for centuries have collapsed:

  1. Mysticism, or the acceptance of allegations without evidence or proof, either apart from or against the evidence of one’s senses and one’s reason.  Mysticism is the claim to some non-sensory, non-rational, non-definable, non-identifiable means of knowledge, such as instinct, intuition, revelation, or any form of just knowing.”  Rand believes that mysticism was killed during the Renaissance or the Age of Enlightenment, and it was replaced by reason – i.e., “the faculty which perceives, identifies, and integrates the material provided by man’s senses.”  Although mysticism was killed hundreds of years ago, it lingers in vampire-like form and periodically emerges because of altruistic morality.
  2. Collectivism.  Rand’s essay does not define this term, but I suspect it would sound a lot like President Obama’s refrain, “You’re not on your own.  We’re in this together.” 
  3. Altruism, or the moral code that “man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification for his existence, and that self-sacrifice is the highest moral duty, virtue, and value.”  Rand points out her abhorrence of altruism does not preclude kindness or good will; rather, she rejects the premise that selfless instead of self is the standard of good.

Rand’s essay focuses on the moral superiority of capitalism over socialism.  She extolls the American capitalism of the 19th century for “moving mankind forward more than all the other centuries combined,” and she compares this lurch forward to “the drab progression of most of history….  There are, fundamentally, only two causes of the progress of the 19th century – the same two causes that you will find at the root of any happy, benevolent, progressive era in human history.”  (It is interesting how Rand uses the term “progressive” is favorable way.)  The two causes – reason and freedom.         

Rand sees reason and freedom as corollaries – i.e., when people are rational, freedom wins; when people are free, reason wins.  Similarly, the antagonists of reason and freedom – faith and force – are corollaries.  Every period dominated by mysticism has been a period of statism, of dictatorship, of tyranny.  The 19th century created a new economic system – capitalism – as a corollary to the new political freedom.  According to Rand, capitalism and altruism are incompatible.      

Rand concludes her essay by asserting, “There are only two means by which men can deal with one another: guns or logic.  Force or persuasion.  Those who know that they cannot win by means of logic, have always resorted to guns.”

I don’t think Rand would see much mysticism in President Obama or the Democratic Party, but she would see so much collectivism and altruism that she would be on the front-line of the TEA Party.



  1. I don’t know enough about Ayn Rand to know whether she would be on the front-line of the TEA Party. However, characteristics that serve mankind well as children, accepting as true what adults tell them without argument, lead to well-disciplined children who can progressive rapidly and successfully through childhood; the same characteristic in adults leads to the lack of ability to critically think and makes for indolent, dull followers who listen for what they want to to told and then believe that. That, unfortunately, is what I see the TEA Party people being.

    Comment by Robert Icenhauer-Ramirez — August 3, 2012 @ 1:55 pm | Reply

    • Robert, I agree that the front-lines of the TEA Party seem to be “manned” by an inordinate number of indolent, dull followers who lack the ability or inclination to critically think. But perhaps it seems that way because the movement is so de-centralized. Movements by their nature need to enlist support wherever they can find it.

      As President Obama suggested, I think, personal initiative (and opportunity) needs to remain the cornerstone of the American way, not an enticing safety net.

      Comment by Mike Kueber — August 3, 2012 @ 5:34 pm | Reply

    • Robert, do you think your comments might apply more to the Moral Majority than the TEA Party?

      Comment by Mike Kueber — August 3, 2012 @ 9:40 pm | Reply

  2. […] my blog posting that elicited the comment from my friend in Austin, I described Ayn Rand’s contrasting of […]

    Pingback by Bumper sticker #1 – “Critical thinking: the other national deficit.” « Mike Kueber's Blog — August 5, 2012 @ 3:18 am | Reply

  3. Here is an article I’ve written that deals with the Democratic Convention and their turn to collectivism:


    Comment by Frank DeMartini — September 9, 2012 @ 10:17 pm | Reply

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