Defending Capitalism against Ayn Rand

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The titles that Ayn Rand assigned to the three parts of Atlas Shrugged proclaim her insistence that logical contradictions cannot exist in reality. By contrast, the title of the magnum opus of the ultimate charlatan in Atlas Shrugged, Simon Pritchett, is The Metaphysical Contradictions of the Universe. Francisco d’Anconia and Hugh Akston explain to Dagny Taggart that whenever someone thinks he has encountered a contradiction, he must check his premises, and he will find that one of them is wrong (I.9, 7, 10).1

In this essay, I will follow d’Anconia’s and Akston’s advice. I will show that a fundamental contradiction pervades Atlas Shrugged because Rand failed to check her premises. She thought that the heroes she created were exemplars of pure, uncorrupted capitalism. In fact, the heroes she created in Atlas Shrugged came from her sense of life, which was not only un-capitalist but anti-capitalist. I will also show that this contradiction is extremely fortunate because it illuminates why capitalism is the most efficient and humane economic system ever implemented.

Rand often emphasized the importance of a person’s “sense of life” and of art as its expression (e.g., Rand 1975: 31, 33, 44). She defined her sense of life and its artistic expression most clearly in an essay she wrote on Victor Hugo (1975: 153–61). In it she said, “Victor Hugo is the greatest novelist in world literature” because his characters are “a race of giants,” who are not concerned with “penny ante.” “‘Grandeur’ is the one word that names the leitmotif . . . of all of Hugo’s novels — and of his sense of life.”

The heroes Rand created in Atlas Shrugged came from her sense of life, which was not only un-capitalist but anti-capitalist.

In Atlas Shrugged, Rand created heroes who embodied her sense of life and described how such heroes would fulfill their heroic natures if they engaged in economic activities. She thought that the sum of their economic activities and interactions provides a template of what laissez-faire capitalism would be like. She was wrong. When the heroes who embody her sense of life engage in economic activities, they function like Communist administrators, not capitalist businessmen.2

To paraphrase Rand, “Grandeur is the one word that names” the sense of life of Communist economies. They had no concern with anything “penny ante.” In the 1980s, when the economy of the Soviet Union was disintegrating, it was producing between 1.5 and two times more steel and cement than the United States and generating more electricity; it also had 2.5 times more machine tools. However, buttons, clothespins, babies’ pacifiers, and thermometers were always extremely difficult to find in the Soviet Union (Shmelev and Popov 1989: 82, 132, 144). Toilet paper and toilet seats were such rare and precious commodities that when McDonald’s opened a restaurant in Moscow, in 1990, its employees had to guard its restrooms to prevent customers stealing toilet paper and toilet seats (Goldman 1991: 166). The Soviet Union’s heroic economy also did not provide contraceptives or a single practical guide to contraception. As a result, Soviet women averaged at least four legal abortions during their lives; and the average was higher in the non-Muslim regions of the Soviet Union. In addition, large numbers of illegal abortions were performed. Anesthetics could be obtained only by a large bribe (Feshbach and Friendly 1992: 208–9).

In Rand’s novel The Fountainhead, the villain, Ellsworth Toohey, completely destroys Catherine Halsey’s soul, and the visible sign of her corruption is that her mouth has adapted to giving orders, “not big orders or cruel orders; just mean little ones — about plumbing and disinfectants” (IV.10). Toohey has turned her into the opposite of a Communist. The Communists gave big, cruel orders and had no concern with mean little considerations. The heroes of Atlas Shrugged are heroic because, like Communist bureaucrats, they produce or maintain impressive products, not mean little ones. It would be unimaginable for a Rand hero to be a manufacturer of “penny ante” products, such as disposable baby diapers, menstrual tampons, or dependable contraceptives. But these distinctively 20th-century inventions improved the quality of life immeasurably by freeing people from preoccupation with brute, animal existence.

Most services would be included among “mean little” occupations. The Communists’ heroic obsession with production caused them to ignore services, which, with a few exceptions, they did not even include in their gross domestic product statistics. In fact, Marxists always used the term “the means of production” as a synonym for “the economy.” In modern capitalist countries, most businesspeople provide services. With one exception that I will discuss below, the only service that a hero in Atlas Shrugged provides is running railroads. This is clearly not a “mean little” occupation, and it was one of the few services that the Soviet Union included in its gross domestic product statistics (weight of freight times kilometers carried).

Moreover, Rand ignored all services in her representation of history (1963: 10–57) as a battle between Attila and the Witch Doctor and their antithesis, the Producer. Indeed, her practice of using “industrialist” as a synonym for businessperson excludes businesspeople who produce “penny ante” products, along with those who provide services. In his long speech in Atlas Shrugged, John Galt (i.e., Ayn Rand) says, “Productiveness is your acceptance of morality . . . productive work is the process by which man’s consciousness controls his existence, a constant process of . . .  shaping matter to fit one’s purpose, of translating an idea into physical form, of remaking the earth in the image of one’s values;” and, “the industrialists, the conquerors of matter” “have produced all the wonders of humanity’s brief summer” (III.7).

It would be unimaginable for a Rand hero to be a manufacturer of disposable diapers, tampons, or dependable contraceptives.

It is true that the great philosopher Hugh Akston owns a diner and cooks its food, which he does with extraordinary skill, making “the best-cooked food she [Dagny] had ever tasted” (I.10). However, Rand does not let this fact affect her conceptualization of productive work when Galt tells Dagny, “We take nothing but the lowliest jobs and we produce by the effort of our muscles” (III.1).3

In her short story “The Simplest Thing in the World” (1975: 173-85), Rand depicts a writer of fiction who cannot make a living because he has the same sense of life as Rand. The writer decides he has to create the type of story that will sell: “a simple, human story,” which consists of “lousy bromides.” “It mustn’t have any meaning,” and its characters must be petty because “[s]mall people are safe.” However, he is incapable of writing such a story. Every time he tries, his sense of life thwarts his conscious efforts, and he starts composing a story about heroes. The reason, as Rand explains in her introduction, is that his “sense of life directs . . . and controls his creative imagination.” To exemplify this fact, he begins to write “a story about a middle-aged millionaire who tries to seduce a poor young working girl.” He is “a big tycoon who owns a whole slew of five-and tens [i.e., discount stores].” But the author cannot write this story. As he develops the story in his mind, his sense of life makes him forget about the girl and transform the villain into a hero. As part of the transformation, he says to himself, “to hell with the five-and-ten!” The hero now builds ships because he is driven by “a great devotion to a goal.” He is motivated by “a great driving energy . . . the principle of creation itself. It’s what makes everything in the world. Dams and skyscrapers and transatlantic cables.” “[H]e wants to work — not to make money, just to work, just to fight” (emphasis added). So, an author with Ayn Rand’s sense of life could not make the hero of his works a retailer, no matter how successful he might be; not even Sam Walton, who founded Walmart and built it into the company with the greatest revenue of any company in the world.

Because the Soviets had the same sense of life as the author in this short story (i.e., the same as Rand), they were extremely proud of the enormous hydroelectric dams they built, and their retailing was horribly inefficient. In the Soviet Union, people had to wait in long lines for any purchase. If someone had time to spare, he would wait in a line to buy something he did not need, in order to barter it with someone who had waited in another line to buy something else. When McDonald’s opened its first restaurant in Moscow, it set all records for number of customers: 40,000 to 50,000 a day, even though its food cost twice as much as the food in state-run cafeterias. It had twenty-seven cash registers. In Communist countries, the length of a line of customers showed how valuable the merchandise was at the end of that line. So, McDonald’s had to have ushers to tell customers not to go to the longest line (Goldman 1991: 166–7; Blackman 1990).

The opening of this first McDonald’s — an event that, as much as any other, marked the end of Communism — illustrates another serious defect in Communist-Objectivist ideals. A small notice in a Soviet newspaper drew 27,000 applicants for jobs as counter clerks, even though the anticipated salary was only average by Soviet standards. Those who were chosen had to be trained to smile at customers and speak politely to them. Their training was so successful that customers could not believe that the clerks were Soviet-raised Russians (Blackman 1990; Goldman 1991: 166–7).

An author with Ayn Rand’s sense of life could not make the hero of his works a retailer, no matter how successful he might be.

Rand used “grocery clerk” to symbolize the antithesis of her ideal (1964: viii; 1975: 84). In her first novel, We the Living, when the heroine, Kira, sees her future lover Leo for the first time,she observes that “[h]is mouth . . . was that of an ancient chieftain who could order men to die, and his eyes were such as could watch it.” However, Leo says to Kira, with bitter humor, “I’m nothing like what you think I am. I’ve always wanted to be a Soviet clerk who sells soap and smiles at customers” (I.4). Again, Rand reversed Communism and capitalism. Men who could order others to die and watch their death calmly characterized Communism. Smiling clerks, who sell unimpressive products, characterize capitalism.

When Nathaniel Branden was the official Objectivist expert on psychology, he wrote, “[P]roductive work is the process through which a man achieves that sense of control over his life which is the precondition of his being able fully to enjoy the other values possible to him … [P]roductive . . . achievements lead to pride” (“Self-Esteem: Part IV,”The Objectivist, June 1967). Branden, as he himself later realized, was exaggerating. But he was exaggerating a truth. A feeling of control over one’s life and pride in productive achievements are certainly wonderful feelings. They can derive directly from the type of work done by Communist administrators and the heroes of Rand’s novels, especially if, like Howard Roark, they have an uncapitalist indifference to money and accept only those projects that appeal to them. However, a feeling of control over one’s life and pride in achievements do not follow directly from the type of work that most people in a capitalist society do: salesmen, accountants, insurance brokers, bank clerks, and manufacturers of “penny ante” products, like clothespins and underpants.

Nearly all readers of Rand’s novels, even those who disagree with her philosophy, recognize that she was a brilliant novelist. But not even her brilliance as a novelist could have made a gripping, inspirational novel about the work that is done in distinctively capitalist occupations, occupations that do not exist in Communist countries, such as advertising or being a real estate agent. In fact, the first jobs of the odious Wesley Mouch were in advertising (Atlas II.6).

Let us consider briefly the novelist whom Rand (1975: 119) regarded as the best of the naturalists, Sinclair Lewis. When Lewis wanted to write novels about admirable protagonists, he made them a dedicated research scientist (Martin Arrowsmith) and the president of a car company (Sam Dodsworth), who began his career as assistant manager of production. When Lewis wanted a pathetic protagonist, he made him a real estate agent (George Babbitt). Babbitt, like Dodsworth, is successful at his work. But Lewis says in the first chapter that Babbitt “made nothing in particular, neither butter nor shoes nor poetry;” and he “detested the grind of the real estate business, and disliked his family, and disliked himself for disliking them.”

The discussion so far illuminates a crucial benefit of the love of money. It entices people into occupations that they may not find interesting or inspiring, but are socially necessary; and it exerts constant pressure on business owners to provide what the public wants, not what they enjoy doing.

In all of Rand’s novels, only one business owner completely embodies the capitalist ethos. That is the press tycoon Gail Wynand, in The Fountainhead, who becomes fabulously rich through selfless service to the public, by providing it with what it wants: a lowbrow, sentimental, lurid newspaper. As he says (IV.11), he has led a life of “[s]elflessness in the absolute sense.” He “erased [his] ego out of existence” by following the principle, “Give the greatest pleasure to the greatest number.” However, according to Rand, Wynand is guilty of the most horrible sin in her moral universe: betraying himself.

Men who could order others to die and watch their death calmly characterized Communism. Smiling clerks, who sell unimpressive products, characterize capitalism.

Wynand’s opposite is Nathaniel Taggart, in Atlas Shrugged, who is supposed to be the archetypal capitalist. As Dagny recalls (I.8), “He said that he envied only one of his competitors, the one who said, ‘The public be damned!’” Nothing could be more antithetical to the motivation of a successful business owner in a capitalist society. This is the ethos of the head of a production unit in a Communist economy, who derives exhilaration and pride from productive achievement without regard to providing the public with what it wants.

Rand’s story “The Simplest Thing in the World” is an excellent illustration of this point. It assumes that an author with Rand’s sense of life is compelled to create a protagonist who does not work for money and therefore chooses to build ships instead of discount stores. This contrast is factually accurate. Someone motivated by money would not consider shipbuilding as a business career since, in economically advanced countries, shipbuilders can stay in business only by means of tariff protection or government subsidies or both. But he would certainly consider the business of discount stores, since they have proved to be the most profitable (i.e., socially useful) branch of retailing.

The economic role of money in constantly driving economic participants to provide the public with what it wants is related to an admirable moral attribute of the free market. It is completely democratic and non-coercive; no one can interfere with other people spending their money on what they want. In her essay “What Is Capitalism?” (1967: 17, 20) Rand showed that she was fully aware of this fundamental attribute of capitalism (the italics are Rand’s):

[T]he works of Victor Hugo are objectively of immeasurably greater value than true-confession magazines. But if a given man’s intellectual potential can barely manage to enjoy true confessions, there is no reason why his meager earnings, the product of his effort, should be spent on books he cannot read.

The tribal mentalities attack this principle . . . by a question such as: “Why should Elvis Presley make more money than Einstein?” The answer is: Because men work in order to support and enjoy their own lives — and if many men find value in Elvis Presley, they are entitled to spend their money on their own pleasure.

It is the Gail Wynands who provide true-confessions magazines and Elvis Presley CDs.

At this point, many readers will object that Ayn Rand appreciated the value of money. She ended Atlas Shrugged with its hero tracing the sign of the dollar in space, made a gold dollar sign Atlantis’ “coat of arms, its trademark, its beacon” (III.1), and herself often wore a gold dollar sign pinned to her dress.

Yet in The Fountainhead, Toohey asks Peter Keating about Roark (II. 4), “Does he like money;” and Keating replies No. But long before that, the reader has learned that Roark’s abnormal indifference to money is one of the essential characteristics that make him the hero of this novel. Indeed, in “The Simplest Thing in the World,” Rand assumed that an author with her sense of life must write only about heroes who do not care about money.

Rand assumed that an author with her sense of life must write only about heroes who do not care about money.

In Atlas Shrugged, Rand sometimes has her heroes claim that their goal is to make money. At the opening of the John Galt Line, which is by far the greatest achievement of both Dagny and Hank Rearden (I.8), a reporter asks Dagny her “motive in building that Line.” She answers, “the profit which I expect to make.” Another reporter cautions her, “That’s the wrong thing to say.” But she repeats it. Yet before her trip begins, she looks at the crowd that has gathered and notices that they are there, not because these people expect to make a profit, but “because the sight of an achievement was the greatest gift a human being could offer to others.” The description of the ride on the John Galt Line is the most exhilarating fiction writing I can recall reading; and I have read a great deal of narrative fiction, in ancient Greek, Latin, English, and French. For Dagny, “It was the greatest sensation of existence; not to trust, but to know.” “She felt the sweep of an emotion which she could not contain, as of something bursting upward.” And what about the engine drivers? Every one of them who was available volunteered to drive the train despite persistent warnings of danger. Surely, they were not motivated by money.

At least in their economic interactions, money should be the primary consideration of the heroes of a novel that ends with the dollar sign traced in the air. In Part I, Chapter 1, Dagny’s parasitical brother James says to her, “I don’t like Hank Rearden.” Dagny replies, “I do. But what does that matter, one way or another? We need rails and he is the only one who can give them to us.” James Taggart, typically of him, replies, “You have no sense of the human element at all.” This conversation crystallizes capitalist and uncapitalist mentalities.

Nevertheless, the economic decisions of the heroes of Atlas Shrugged are constantly motivated by the human element. That is true even of the one major character in Atlas Shrugged who is a pure capitalist, Midas Mulligan. He says he joined the strike because of a vision, in which he “saw the bright face and the eyes of young Rearden . . . lying at the foot of an altar . . . and what stood on that altar was Lee Hunsacker, with the mucus-filled eyes” (III.1). In Part II, Chapter 3, Francisco asks Rearden: did you want the rail you made for the John Galt Line used by your equals, like Ellis Wyatt, and by men such as Eddie Willers, who do not match your ability but who “equal your moral integrity” and “riding on your rail — give a moment’s silent thanks”? Rearden answers Yes. Francisco then asks, “Did you want to see it used by whining rotters?” Rearden answers, “I’d blast that rail first.” Francisco then explains that by "whining rotter" he means “any man who proclaims his right to a single penny of another man’s effort.” But no economy, whether socialist or capitalist, could function for one day if producers acted in this way. In Part II, Chapter 10, Dagny says that Nathaniel Taggart, supposedly the archetypical capitalist, “couldn’t have worked with people like these passengers. He couldn’t have run trains for them.” But no one running a train line, even in a socialist economy, could possibly consider the moral worth of its passengers, or any consideration besides their paying for the ride.

No one running a train line, even in a socialist economy, could possibly consider the moral worth of its passengers, or any consideration besides their paying for the ride.

I will conclude with the most frequently quoted explanation of why the market is the most effective means of providing people with what they want. It is by Adam Smith, in Book I, Chapter II of The Wealth of Nations: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard for their own interest. We address ourselves . . . to their self-love.” Butchers, brewers, and bakers had a very low priority in Communist countries. When McDonald’s opened its first restaurant in Moscow, it had to train its own butchers (Goldman 1991: 166). It is also unimaginable for an Ayn Rand hero to be a butcher, brewer, or baker. The self-interest and self-love that induces people to become butchers, brewers, and bakers and to perform those jobs well is totally different from the heroic self-love of Rand’s heroes. It is an unheroic desire to support themselves and their families in comfort and security.

In her essay “What Is Capitalism?” Ayn Rand showed that she understood as well as Smith why love of money is wonderfully socially beneficial. In her fiction, however, her anti-capitalist sense of life obliterated that knowledge.

***

Footnotes
1. I cite passages in Rand’s novels by the part of the novel in which they occur and the chapter in that part. I do not cite page numbers because there are many editions, and each has different pagination from the others.
2. I write “Communist” with a capital “C” to indicate a member of a Marxist-Leninist Communist Party. Many people have championed a communist society (with a small “c”), beginning with the first two extant projections of an ideal society: Plato’s Republic and Aristophanes’ Ecclesiazusae, both from the 4th century BC.
3. Several of the heroes provide services while they are in Galt’s Gulch. But these jobs are merely stopgaps until they return to the world and use their talents again in their real work.

Bibliography
Blackman, Ann 1990: “Moscow’s Big Mak Attack.” Time (February 5).
Feshbach, Murray and Friendly, Alfred Jr. 1992: Ecocide in the USSR: Health and Nature under Siege. London: Aurum Press.
Goldman, Marshall 1991: What Went Wrong with Perestroika. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Rand, Ayn 1963: For the New Intellectual. New York: Signet.
Rand, Ayn 1964: The Virtue of Selfishness. New York: Signet.
Rand, Ayn 1967: Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. New York: Signet.
Rand, Ayn 1975: The Romantic Manifesto, revised edition. New York: Signet.
Shmelev, Nikolai and Popov, Vladimir 1989: The Turning Point: Revitalizing the Soviet Economy, translated by Michele A. Berdy. New York: Doubleday.


Editor's Note: This article is part of a much longer monograph with the same title. It can be obtained from the author at stevenfarron@gmail.com.



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Comments

UJH

I would like to thank the author for a stimulating article and Liberty for making it available. In the end, though, I have to disagree with the basic premise. And, oddly enough, the issue seems to hinge on the nature of Romantic art.

Let's start with the common folk. I was alive when Atlas was being written. In those days many of the popular movies were Westerns, war movies, and good guy/bad guy tales. I don't think anyone back then thought they were supposed to become cowboys or policemen or soldiers. I don't think many thought that major issues in their life would be solved with guns. Instead, I think those movies provided a concrete representation, understandable to anyone, of an abstract struggle between good and evil. Moviegoers left the house with a feeling that good could triumph in the end.

Rand chose oversize characters in big industries to represent ideas she felt were big and important. Making Dagny a tampon manufacturer would not worked for that task. Choosing symbols in art is a tightrope act balancing the values of the author with what the reader will understand from those choices. In 1957 making Dagny a tampon manufacturer would have drawn snickers and a sense that this was bawdy comedy rather than a novel of ideas. (A novel of ideas is a dead genre that adds emotional impact to abstract ideas by representing them in an engaging story.)

I am not convinced that sense of life and related issue play little role in people's economic choices. Take a waitress as an example. Most of the waitresses I know do it for the money. Yet, at the same time, they like to feel they are serving good food to nice people. Imagine Jane who gradually figures out her employer is serving horse meat and leftovers from the Food Mart dumpster. When she opens her paycheck she feels glad she can pay the rent but she does not feel proud of how she got that check. She may change jobs as soon as she can, even to one that pays the same. Meanwhile Sally is finding her diner is a front for the mob. The food, pay, and tips are all good, but she knows the real action is in the back room where "customers" hook up with money launderers, dope and hookers. She leaves because she does not feel good about whom she serves. Her pay is not a reward for doing good but a bribe for doing bad. Few people like to feel that way about the work they do.
One of the fundamental struggles of human life is to figure out how to meet our material needs in a way that enhances our spiritual needs.

In a similar vein, Roark would rather do an honest day's work in a quarry than produce crap for idiots. In the short run, that seems like a poor path to wealth. But many innovators have not had their ideas accepted immediately. The innovation that drives wealth creation often requires that the innovator stubbornly stick to their ideals rather than settle for a good paying job. People like Roark, Henry Ford, and Steve Jobs DID have a grandiose idea of themselves and the value of their work, and needed it to prevail in the marketplace.

Farron quotes some passages from Atlas showing contempt for Dagny and Hank's customers. But remember that this takes place very late in an economic collapse. I don't think the issue here is contempt for customers. The issue is how many goodies does one want to supply to folks who will vote for ones destruction? In a healthy, benevolent society, we assume that making life easier for people in general is a good thing. Making bullets for people to shoot us with is not so good.

The quote from W. H. Vanderbilt was probably a poor choice on Rand's part as it is not too clear what she or Dagny intended it to mean, nor how her readers would take it. I believe the context of the original was a question as to whether certain of Vanderbilt's railroads were making a profit or run for the public good. Vanderbilt issued his famous sentence and then admitted the lines were losing money and he would like to be rid of them. Presumably he could then use the capital and rolling stock tied up in those lines to serve areas where there was more money and more demand - i.e., serve more members of "the public". It is a mystery of capitalism that following the money leads to serving the public whether that is our goal or not. It appears Vanderbilt's objection was not to serving his customers but to doing so at a loss.

As a postscript to all of this, I might add that some of Rand's admirers also seem to make the mistake of taking her symbols too literally. The goal is not to become a railroad tycoon. The goal is to remain true to the best within us.

Visitor#1

Ayn Rand is the biggest capitalist supporter there is... The auther of this effort never understood Ayn Rand! Ayn Rand left Communisim to achive success in a capitalistic world, and she did by illustrating through her writing that the only people who provide value to society are the industrious business owners. For a real analysis on Ayn Rand's work and life read the book "Who is ayn Rand?"(ISBN 0394451791) by Nathaniel Branden; someone who actauly knew and conversed with Ayn.

David

The author makes his "case" by reading Rand as nitpickingly and dishonestly as possible, treating carefully cherry-picked fictional details as the equivalent of extended philosophical arguments, ignoring a great deal of Rand's relevant work, etc.

Steven Farron

Dear David,
It is obviously impossible for me to answer your accusations in the Replies to articles. If you email me at stevenfarron@gmail.com, I will send you my complete monograph on Ayn Rand, from which this article is extracted. Then we can correspond.

Another Visitor

Thanks for the ineresting read. (Disclosure: I jumped to the comments section before finishing the article - but will later.) Regardless of what inconsistencies remain between Rand's fiction and non-fiction, though, I don't see the heroic "sense of life" found in the former conflicting with the capitalist doctrine of the latter. If Adam Smith could attribute the success of capitalism to the inadvertent effect of "selfish concern" - that indirect, "invisible hand" - then we should embrace Rand's heroes despite their analogous indifference to the nation's overall economic well-being, or standard of living. After all, modern civilization does need steel and railroads, at least as much as butchers and bakers.

Steven Farron

Dear “Another Visitor,”
I point out in my article that Communist bureaucrats, who were motivated by the same sense of grandeur as the heroes of Atlas Shrugged, provided steel in abundance. I also point out, in my two replies to the criticisms of Charles Barr, that Soviet industry produced some extremely high-quality products. I mention as examples the T-34 Tank, which was incomparably superior to the American Sherman Tank, MiG fighter planes, and the AK-47 assault rifle, which was by far the best assault rifle for decades. I also explain the reason: All these outstanding products were made for the army; and in the Soviet Union the army was the one consumer that could exert continuous pressure on its suppliers. In a free market, all consumers of all products and services exert continuous pressure on all providers by choosing which products and services to buy. In a completely socialized economy, there is no way for a consumer to know who is providing what he buys. He does not buy Colgate or Ipana; he buys something labeled “toothpaste.” In addition, the free market forces economic participants to suppress the powerful human desire to gain pride and self-esteem through grandiose achievements. Instead, it forces them to direct their efforts and capital to what the public wants, like efficient retailing. In short, the greatness of the free market is that it constantly compels economic participants to serve the public.
In my article, I observe that in all of Rand’s novels, only one business owner completely embodies the capitalist ethos. That is the press tycoon Gail Wynand, in The Fountainhead, who becomes fabulously rich through selfless service to the public, by providing it with what it wants: a lowbrow, sentimental, lurid newspaper. As he says (IV.11), he has led a life of “[s]elflessness in the absolute sense.” He “erased [his] ego out of existence” by following the principle, “Give the greatest pleasure to the greatest number.” However, according to Rand, Wynand is guilty of the most horrible sin in her moral universe: betraying himself.
I also point out that Nathaniel Taggart is supposed to be the archetypal capitalist, but Dagny recalls with approval (I.8), “He said that he envied only one of his competitors, the one who said, ‘The public be damned!’”

LibertyInKind

I am a long term libertarian and advocate of both the sense of life depicted in Ayn Rand's novels and the connection of a free market to being able to accept unique ideas and translating it into products that differentiate.

However, I have always been unable to accept a few things. Howard Roark's intransigence, and Gail Wynand's editorial stance in the Fountainhead are qualities that in a true free market can be economical suicide. The Fountainhead to me was a unique description of the sense of life that Ayn Rand advocated, and Atlas Shrugged was very much a reaction to the educational atmosphere at that time as she saw through her relationship with Nathaniel Branden.

In the Fountainhead, Howard Roark isolates himself because of his architectural ideas and the antagonist is overcoming "second handers" who repress new ideas because they threaten the status quo. In Atlas Shrugged, the antagonist is the abuse of state power. She has a clear theme of individualism versus collectivism in both novels, but this has always been a depiction of the struggle that she identifies as suppressing her sense of life.

If Ayn Rand had never met Nathaniel Branden, and also never wrote Atlas Shrugged, I think likely the connection between her sense of life and the free market would not have been as dominating.

I believe her legacy would be completely different. Even in We the Living, the theme was more about her sense of life and a depiction of how communism suppresses it, than a promotion of the free market. Anthem also was about the rediscovery of self, and not also a general promotion of the free market. One reason her novels come off as reactionary to some is that it is a response to the suppression of her sense of life ideal.

It is very easy to imagine a anti-corporatist version of Atlas Shrugged, where the antagonists are large suppressing corporations. Or an anti-coporatist version of The Fountainhead, where Howard Roark is suppressed by the economies of scale that follow multigenerational corporations.

The affront that is so powerful in her novels is that a system exists that hinder the sense of life of the protagonists. However, this can be communicated in many different themes, of which the free market is just one of them.

I applaud Steven Farron for his wonderfully insightful article, which seems to be a compilation of many years of thinking through how Ayn Rand's sense of life is maybe incorrectly used to promote the free market. The insight that grandeur prime movers are ideals even in communism is wonderful. Of course Marxist rhetoric tries to convert this sense of life into duty, and fails, but Ayn Rand was definitely still influenced by this propaganda.

The reality is that those with a full sense of life cross the spectrum of political thought. The reason that libertarianism does not resonate with all I think is because everyone has different experiences that have suppressed their own sense of life. Some, or most, have not thought through their conclusions to recognize that state power (whether through regulations or corporations) is the primary source of repression.

However, many have formed different conclusions based on their personal experience, and sometimes advocating the free market with a "sense of your life be damned" attitude drives away those that may be the best converts to libertarianism.

In Atlas Shrugged, the antagonists all have a poor sense of life and exist at the mercy of others, but we all know that in reality many of those that oppose libertarianism are great people that have been turned off by the connection with the free market and state sanctioned corporations. They can not see another way of to protecting life without piecemeal regulatory changes that restrict the abuses of state sanctioned corporate power.

I read this article when it was published, and it has stayed in my mind consistently since then. It must have been a hard article to write and it seems that it was a result of much time and thought. It really helps to separate Ayn Rand's sense of life from her understanding of the free market.

The connection between grandeur prime movers being the only people that had an adequate sense of life, and the free market is shaky at best, and I really think this has damaged the path of how libertarians should promote freedom.

This article being published by Liberty is such a good example of why this periodical is so good. Thank you Liberty and Steven Farron for some great insights that I'm still digesting even after this many weeks, and will likely do so for many more...

Visitor

This quote explains it all and makes Ayn Rand the Facist monster she deserves to be:

"The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism - ownership of government by an individual, by a group."
-Franklin D. Roosevelt

Steven Farron

Dear Visitor,
You have made a serious mistake in equating economic success with political power. In a completely free market, a person or business can gain and maintain economic success only by being at least as good as competitors in providing the public with what it wants; they can be outstandingly successful only by being outstandingly successful at providing the public with what it wants; e.g., Walmart and Apple.
Your mistake in equating economic success with political power has had catastrophic consequences. The most horrendous was that the Nazis, like all anti-Semites, constantly quoted statistics of Jewish success in business, journalism, the arts, and sciences to prove that Jews owned and ran the governments of the world through an all-pervasive Jewish conspiracy. (If you want a monograph that I wrote on this subject, email me at stevenfarron@gmail.com.)

Dennis Wilson

Without the bloody institution of "government", fascism would not be possible. And therein lies a very good argument for Agorism.

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