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Mon Nov 5, 2012, 07:48 AM

The Antidote to Ayn Rand

The Antidote to Ayn Rand

Sunday, 04 November 2012 07:05
By Jeffrey Mikkelson, Truthout | Op-Ed

The last word of Ayn Rand's dystopian novella Anthem is "EGO." Grasping the significance of this forbidden word is a kind of divine revelation for the novel's protagonist, signaling his emancipation from the benighted, collectivist society into which he was born. I read Anthem in the 8th grade and, like many adolescents introduced to Rand's seductive brand of egoism, I was attracted to her heroic depiction of strong-willed, self-reliant individuals fighting against the mediocrity and stupidity of society. I can't say I ever had an Ayn Rand phase - my childhood fantasy world was populated instead with hobbits, wizards and elves - but I understand why many teenagers do. Adolescence is a restless stage when young people test the boundaries of their world, often questioning the authority of parents, teachers and preachers for the first time. Rand captures something of that rebellious attitude. But her novels also appeal to teenagers because they validate a tendency in full bloom at that age: selfishness.

Our genetic and cultural endowment includes cooperative and altruistic impulses as well as selfish ones, but the first two are rarely at the height of expression during adolescence. Most of us are rabid egoists at that age, prioritizing our needs and wants over those of others, not yet beginning to recognize our membership in what John Dewey calls the "community of causes and consequences," which includes a world of human beings whose concerns are every bit as legitimate as our own. Tragically, some never advance beyond this stage, and not a few of them end up working on Wall Street. Which brings us back to Rand - matron saint of the financial ruling class and its political enablers, goddess of the cult of free-market capitalism. Rand is second perhaps only to Adam Smith in her hallowedness among the cheerleaders of laissez-faire government, with the distinct advantage of having been read by many of them.

As tempting as it is to dismiss Rand's novels as self-indulgent adolescent fantasy (and many have), it would be a mistake not to take her ideas seriously. They inspired the modern libertarian movement and helped shape American economic policy for the past 30 years. A figure no less prominent than Alan Greenspan counted Rand as a close personal friend and guiding light, and conservatives from Ron Paul to Clarence Thomas built their political and judicial philosophies around her ideas. Her radical brand of individualism has all but taken over the Republican Party - steering it away not only from the founding fathers' vision of "a more perfect union," but also from the GOP's own communitarian roots, as E.J. Dionne argues in his book Our Divided Political Heart. Until now, Rand wielded influence largely by invisible hand, her critically panned but perennially popular books passing from reader to reader like a secret right-wing manifesto slipped under the snooty noses of the liberal academic establishment. Sooner or later, however, her ideas were bound to emerge from the shadows.


Dewey's short and superb book Individualism Old and New was published in 1930, but could easily have been written last year. In it, he argues that personal liberty is enhanced - not diminished - by social cooperation, and the real threat to the individual comes not from a dynamic concept of the public good, but from the social isolation and economic injustice endemic to mindless corporate capitalism. Dewey thinks that promoting individual freedom and opportunity requires not just private ambition, but also public collaboration and an open, experimental attitude. Unfortunately, we watched a different experiment play out over the past 30 years - the Randian experiment of deregulation, deunionization and regressive tax policy - which culminated in economic crisis, soaring inequality, decreased social mobility, political gridlock and cultural decline. It's time to learn from another experimental period in American history, one that brought us 30 years of relative progress, growth and prosperity - time, in other words, to stop listening to John Galt and to start listening again to John Dewey. ...............(more)

The complete piece is at: http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/12429-the-antidote-to-ayn-rand

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Reply The Antidote to Ayn Rand (Original post)
marmar Nov 2012 OP
no_hypocrisy Nov 2012 #1

Response to marmar (Original post)

Mon Nov 5, 2012, 08:15 AM

1. I love Dewey.


In his advocacy of democracy, Dewey considered two fundamental elements—schools and civil society—as being major topics needing attention and reconstruction to encourage experimental intelligence and plurality. Dewey asserted that complete democracy was to be obtained not just by extending voting rights but also by ensuring that there exists a fully formed public opinion, accomplished by effective communication among citizens, experts, and politicians, with the latter being accountable for the policies they adopt.

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