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Why Ayn Rand Won’t Go Away

by Michael Shermer, Oct 23 2012

Atlas Shrugged, Part 2
and the Motor of Moral Psychology

This article was originally published on on October 12, 2012

Atlas Shrugged, Part II (theatrical poster)

After seeing the Los Angles premiere of Atlas Shrugged, Part 2, the film that opened October 12 based on the 1957 novel by Ayn Rand (and with an entirely new cast and higher production values a vast improvement over Part 1), a question struck me as I was exiting the theater surrounded by Hollywood types most commonly stereotyped as liberal: Why don’t liberals admire Ayn Rand and her philosophy of objectivism, so forcefully presented in this book and film?

It is not a mystery that the woman who called herself a “radical for capitalism” would be embraced by some conservatives such as Paul Ryan and Ron Paul, but why do liberals not recognize that Rand was also a champion of individual rights, was outspoken against racism, bigotry and discrimination against minorities, and most notably was ahead of her time in championing women’s rights and demonstrating through her novels (and films) that women are as smart as men, as tough-minded as men, as hard working as men, as ambitious as men, and can even run an industrial enterprise as good as—if not better than—men? In the teeth of a 2010 study that revealed Hollywood still discriminates against women when it comes to roles in films, most notably the number and length of speaking parts and the continued blatant sexuality in which women show far more skin than men but speak far less, the hero of Atlas Shrugged, Dagny Taggert (played by Samantha Mathis in the new film), has the most speaking roles (and shows almost no skin), runs her own transcontinental railroad, handles with ease both seasoned male politicians and hard-nosed male titans of industry, and embodies courage and character deserving of respect and admiration from women and men, liberals and conservatives.

An answer may be found in the fact that American politics is a duopoly of those who tend toward being either fiscally and socially liberal or fiscally and socially conservative. Rand’s fiscal conservatism and social liberalism fits into neither camp comfortably (and is mostly commonly associated with the Libertarian party). As well, the moral psychology behind the political duopoly leads people to either believe that moral principles are absolute and universal or that they are relative and cultural. Rand’s implacable absolutism on moral issues, especially her seemingly cold-hearted fiscal conservatism, more comfortably fits into the conservative camp, but even there only barely.

Consider a few correlations from my dataset of 34,371 Americans who took “The Morality Survey” (you can take it yourself), constructed by myself and U.C. Berkeley social scientist Frank Sulloway and analyzed by my graduate students Anondah Saide and Kevin McCaffree: (1) We found a significant correlation (r=.29) between social conservatism and the belief that moral principles are absolute and universal (and between social liberalism and the belief that moral principles are relative and cultural), so Rand’s philosophy does not match that of most Americans. (2) We found a significant correlation (r=.24) between fiscal conservatism and the belief that moral principles are absolute and universal (and the reverse for social liberalism), so fiscal liberals will not embrace Rand here. We also found a correlation (r=.27) between belief in God and belief that moral principles are absolute and universal, and here again Rand is an outlier as an atheist who firmly believed in absolute and universal moral principles (discoverable through reason, she believed). So for liberals, Rand’s fiscal conservatism and moral principle absolutism trumps her social liberalism, and even for many on the right her atheism and rejection of faith calls into question her conservative bona fides.

Our duopolistic political system also explains why third parties in American politics—from libertarians and tea partyers to progressives and green partyers—cannot get a toehold. Despite Romney’s 47% gaffe, in point of fact both candidates know that each will automatically receive about that percentage of the vote, leaving the final 6% up for grabs. Why are we so politically divided? One answer comes from the 19th century political philosopher John Stuart Mill: “A party of order or stability, and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life.”

But why would our political life be so configured? A deep evolutionary answer may be found in the moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s new book The Righteous Mind, in which he argues that, to both liberals and conservatives, members of the other party are not just wrong; they are righteously wrong. Their errors are not just factual, but intentional, and their intentions are not just misguided, but dangerous. As Haidt explains, “Our righteous minds made it possible for human beings to produce large cooperative groups, tribes, and nations without the glue of kinship. But at the same time, our righteous minds guarantee that our cooperative groups will always be cursed by moralistic strife.” Thus, he concludes, morality binds us together into cohesive groups but blinds us to the ideas and intentions of those in other groups.

Third parties and outliers like Rand fall into neither group and so are not even taken seriously. But why only two parties? According to Haidt, the answer is in our moral psychology and how liberals and conservatives differ in their emphasis on five moral foundations:

  1. Harm/care, which underlies such moral virtues as kindness and nurturance;
  2. Fairness/reciprocity, which leads to such political ideals of justice, rights, and individual autonomy;
  3. Ingroup/loyalty, which creates within a tribe a “band-of-brothers” effect and underlies such virtues as patriotism;
  4. Authority/respect, which lies beneath such virtues as esteem for law and order and respect for traditions; and
  5. Purity/sanctity, which emphasizes the belief that the body is a temple that can be desecrated by immoral activities.

Sampling hundreds of thousands of people Haidt found that liberals are higher than conservatives on 1 and 2 (Harm/care and Fairness/reciprocity), but lower than conservatives on 3, 4, and 5 (Ingroup/loyalty, Authority/respect, and Purity/sanctity), while conservatives are roughly equal on all five dimensions, although slightly higher on 3, 4, and 5 (you can take the survey).

Obama’s emphasis on caring for the poor and fairness across all socioeconomic classes appeals to liberals, whereas conservatives are drawn toward Romney’s reinforcement of faith, family, nation, and tradition. Libertarians split the difference in being fiscally conservative and socially liberal, but their one-dimensional emphasis on individual freedom above all else (as in Rand’s philosophy) leaves them devoid of political support.

So when you see Atlas Shrugged, Part 2, remember that this is far more than a film or a story about a railroad and a mysterious motor. It is a vehicle to get us to think about which moral principles we value the most, because as Ayn Rand believed, it is ideas that move the world.

159 Responses to “Why Ayn Rand Won’t Go Away”

  1. MB says:

    “…why do liberals not recognize that Rand was also a champion of individual rights, was outspoken against racism, bigotry and discrimination against minorities…etc.”

    Well, because there are a hell of a lot of people more admirable than Rand who champion such causes, that’s why? Who needs her and her quackery?

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      Well said!
      I was going to also point out that her writing is not very good.

    • Giovanni says:

      The liberals who hate Rand seem to almost celebrate this kind of anti-intellectualism, and jingoism. Not one single comment explains what free markets are in comparison to how big government instead of limited government helps the people. It’s simply the same strawman argument you see on every other liberal response to libertarianism.

      “You don’t believe in state initiated force for welfare? Then you don’t care about the poor.”

      How many times have conservatives (who do this too, bytheway) done this to you, liberals?

      “You believe in legalizing drugs? You’re a pothead.”

      Referring to free market perspectives as a religion, when it was free marketeers who correctly predicted the economic collapse (Peter Schiff, Ron Paul), shows how emotionally reactive statists can be. Faith in institutionalized power (big government), with no regard for how that power attracts the very monsters that you seem to correlate with libertarianism is to me, more of a religious leap than the simply exchange of goods and services.

      This entire stream of comments is full of condescending, disrespectful and pretty much ignorant descriptions of what free markets are, straw arguments from start to finish. Not one single comment that correctly explains what libertarianism is.

      • Bad Boy Scientist says:

        Power does not tend evenly distribute itself in a free market – it is human nature to exploit any competitive edge. When large companies do this it can lead to monopolies and anti-competitive behavior.

        People talk about giving power to the government but they never address who winds up with that power if it government doesn’t hold it. I am not saying that having the economy directed by a handful of wealthy and influential men behind closed doors would be better or worse than having the economy directed by a bunch of elected influential men behind closed doors …

        Whether it is centrally planned by the government (ala Soviet Union) or directed by wealthy businessmen (ala post revolution Russia) there is no guarantee that most folks will get a fair shot.

      • Jimbo Riots says:

        ultimately a Randian world would turn into one where all is run by a few monopolies. Rand defended monopolies as the just developments of an “individuals achievement”. The problem is that monopolies within the market are not economically efficient, and thus bad for creating competitive market place that we need to maintain the most efficient economy. That is why we need a state, elected by the people, to regulate anti-competitive conduct by companies.

      • zack says:

        guy. you speak ill of monopolies, but overlook the fact that every monopoly or near monopoly you could spot today, does so with the assistance of government force.. and also the government you endorse holds monopolies on currency, land, law enforcement, defense, etc etc..
        you have really not been exposed to the myriad of ways that government has assisted cartels and big business, while blaming it on freedom to increase their own power…

      • Mal Adapted says:

        So, Giovanni, why don’t you tell us what libertarianism (with a lower-case ‘l’?) is.

      • Randy Grein says:

        Giovanni, liberals especially talk about free market religion mostly because America has made a version of it – an incorrect version, I might add – into a religion. That does not mean that all free market ideas are guilty of religiosity, but they are common enough to need care during discussion, just as notions of ‘fairness’, ‘big government’, and especially ‘socialism’ need to be tested for rationality vs. religiosity. If rational, we can discuss particulars and come to terms. If religious, then we have a problem – the religious do not lightly give up a point of faith; in fact they rarely do so.
        A rational view of markets will show that Ron Paul happened to be right this time – but as he has been tilting at that particular wind mill for years that’s not a record of success. There are better predictors in the field, based on economic models rather than political views. (Ron Paul has many good points, consistency being one as well as some inherent honesty. His economic worldview is no better than any other politician.)
        You are correct to warn about the perils of ‘big government’. Individuals have little power compared to these large entities, which is the entire problem with a pure free market political design. With such a disparity in economic power a market cannot be free – large entities will always hold an advantage, being able to influence purchase price while individuals cannot. The market therefore resembles a limited monopoly and the large take the bulk of the profit. The best individuals can do is to play one giant off against another, mitigating in part their advantage by pairing with one or another for temporary advantage.
        It’s not an ideal situation, but the pragmatist will accept that another entity – government, religion, unions or another – is necessary to counter the effect of large business and provide, if not some kind of economic equality at least a bit of parity.

        Oh, by the way – a market is free only when no entity can influence the sale price of a given transaction.

    • smebird says:

      I read Ayn Rand back in my twenties. Besides the disappointment I felt when I realized that her style was distinctly romantic novella, there was nothing surprising or new. I kept thinking that if she had published in the USSR, I might have been impressed. But, to preach capitalism and individualism in the U.S. is kind of like writing a book for librarians with the courageous message that books are important.

      It actually worries me that any U.S. citizen would feel like Rand’s books were original and daring. Are you kidding me? This is the land of a million lemonade stands. We are raised on entrepreneurial spirit and competition from our first breaths. We are so individualistic that we scare the crap out of other countries. Rand wasn’t radical; she was just selling us the clothes we were already wearing. She lay on so much praise that we are still convinced it was worth every cent. So, maybe she should be admired for her chutzpah. That was quite some con.

    • Jim says:

      The real reason, is that liberals want the force of the Governments guns for their extortions, power and control of other men, the confession is they want to play dictator as well. An Individual having rights would be against this ploy.

  2. Phil says:

    I think, Michael, you said it. Libertarians, as I know them, seem to have an obsession with the free market philosophy to the exclusion of all else. There is also the inherent contradictions of the philosophy itself. If you believe in the unfettered free market you also believe a business can discriminate, decide which employees to favor and which customers to serve. This is anethema to liberals and seems to me to contradict Rand’s other beliefs. Yes, both parties do hold contradictory views but if I can point out one reason liberals don’t like Rand anyone can find better ones. I’m not a philosophy major or social scientist so maybe I got something wrong.

    • Carl says:

      “There is also the inherent contradictions of the philosophy itself. If you believe in the unfettered free market you also believe a business can discriminate, decide which employees to favor and which customers to serve. This is anethema to liberals and seems to me to contradict Rand’s other beliefs.”

      Believing that businesses should have the *legal* right to do so doesn’t mean believing that it’s the *right thing to do*. Just as businesses are free to discriminate unfairly, consumers are free to take their business elsewhere. There’s no contradiction.

      • Janet Camp says:

        Rubbish. I’ve never shopped at WalMart, but they’re still in business. I don’t buy Koch products–they’re still billionaires. Cigarettes would still be advertised on television if it had not been outlawed. Protection of my civil rights should not depend on the shopping habits of a certain segment of the voting population. Even though boycotts are sometimes effective, they do not necessarily correspond to protection of rights.

      • Daniel says:

        That’s pretty egocentric.

        While you don’t shop at WalMart, tens of millions of other people do. And a lot of the people that do are minorities and blue collar types that might have had their jobs shipped to China. They are willing to look past supposedly discriminatory practices to buy something at a cheaper price. I imagine you probably do buy a lot of products from Koch industries, you just don’t notice it.

        Finally, one’s civil rights operate against the government, not against private actors. Doesn’t mean private business isn’t regulated, but it’s important to recognize the distinction.

      • Old Rockin' Dave says:

        I don’t want to make this all about WalMart, but if you look at their purchasing practices they use their size to make manufacturers move production outside the US to lower their costs, so they are responsible for some of those jobs shipped to China. Instead of providing reasonable health insurance for employees, they have told low-paid employees to seek out Medicaid. Their hiring of illegal aliens, their use of underage employees at prohibited times of day, their locking in of night crews, their consideration of a plan to shed employees with physical disabilities when they have offered health insurance, and much more are well-documented.
        Beyond that, it is certainly possible for private actors to deprive you of your civil rights. That’s how the federal government managed to jail some of those murderers who were acquitted by good-ol’-boy justice.

      • Phil says:

        I think Janet nailed one huge point and it deseves repeating:

        “Protection of my civil rights should not depend on the shopping habits of a certain segment of the voting population. Even though boycotts are sometimes effective, they do not necessarily correspond to protection of right.”

        Daniel missed the point altogether by calling this egocentric and by side-tracking this basic point into a discussion of The merits of Wal-Mart.

        The legal protection of our civil rights is one that Rand did not champion and one that liberals like me generally see very differently from conservatives. I think this difference is perhaps the biggest reason liberals generally are not fond of Rand.

      • Phil says:

        For clarity purposes, I’m a different “Phil” than the one who started this specific (number 2) thread.

      • Giovanni says:

        The problem here is that owning someone else’s property is not a right. You don’t have a ‘right’ to someone else’s property.

        Just reading the arrogant smugness from all the liberals on this page is driving my insides to a boil. Running straw arguments against free markets while ignoring the fact that the government protects the worst polluters and worst human rights offenders. Because government is big.

        Nope – corrupt people will save us.

      • Giovanni says:

        As bad as racism is, it doesn’t mean you have the moral right to someone else’s property. It might seem unfair, but you can never by definition have a ‘right’ to something that you did not produce, earn or work for. Just because someone is ignorant or insulting doesn’t mean you have a ‘civil right’ to the services or labor of that person. And securing a ‘right’ to that person’s property is not civil – it is the initiation of force – it is YOU who is the aggressor.

        You can disagree with that, but you can’t call the use of state coercion into forcing others to serve you because you want to eat or shop at racist stores a ‘civil right’. Force is not civil.

      • Bad Boy Scientist says:

        Giovanni hits the nail on the head:
        It doesn’t matter what system you have if it is rife with corruption. A corrupt government running an economy is as bad as a corrupt group of wealthy elites running an economy. [BTW: If you change system of gov't & economy, often those same men will fill the roles of power under the new system.]

        There are pluses and minuses to each system (and there are more choices than communism and free markets)… but wide spread corruption will bring down any system.

      • Giovanni says:

        “Protection of my civil rights should not depend on the shopping habits of a certain segment of the voting population.”

        That’s the problem – you don’t have rights to what another human being produces – unless Walmart creates a crime, there is nothing wrong with what they are doing – if they do commit crime and get away with it – the proper role of government is not assumed.

        How does the Koch Brothers or Wal-Mart violate your rights?

      • Bad Boy Scientist says:

        If by ‘your’ you mean the generic American version – then Walmart violates the working rights of their workers on a routine basis.

        Some of the companies owned by the Koch brothers have violated human rights overseas.

        Whoever said it was right: you undoubtedly buy products made by Koch companies (or at least Koch industries have had a hand in its production) – so boycotting doesn’t work as well. Boycotting tends to only work on companies that sell consumer products – not on companies like Lockheed-Martin.

      • Another point of view says:

        You are free not to shop at Walmarts, just as I am to take advantage of the great prices and usually good quality. What you seem to want is for everyone to accept your sense of values by force.

    • Daniel says:

      @Old Rockin Dave: The “Good Old Boys” who were convicted of civil rights violations did so “under color of law”. That is, they were government officials, and perhaps people that conspired with those people. That’s the reason why civil rights prosecutions were brought against the cops who beat up Rodney King, but not the guy who based a brick over Reginald Denny’s head.

      Otherwise, maybe all that stuff you say about WalMart is true. Presumably, many of the people that shop at WalMart have a basic understanding of the bad stuff you think WalMart does, but still choose to shop there based on lower prices. If you don’t like it, don’t shop there, unless you’re of the view that because you and other likeminded people are so outraged by WalMart’s practices that they should be shut down and no one should be able to buy from them.

      WalMart or any other purely private actor have nothing to with your “civil rights”.

  3. Deen says:

    Uhm, what about the rest of the world? Most of your arguments fall apart when you look at nations without a two-party system. It’s not like two-party systems are the natural order of things, you know.

    • Daniel says:

      What does a two-party political system have to with the price of tea in China?

      • Janet Camp says:

        Nothing. But the price of Tea in China was not the subject of the post. The post did use the two-party system as an exclusive example of capitalism, though, which it is not.

      • Daniel says:

        The post did not speak of the two-party system. It broke down various social/political philosophies, from liberalism, conservatism and libertarianism. Whether in the US those manifest themselves in a de facto two-party system is irrelevant. Notice it never asked why Democrats don’t find Rand appealing.

      • Jimmy Russell says:

        The whole post repeatedly mentions America’s two-party system (or did you not read it?). Granted, it doesn’t specifically say Republican or Democrat, but we all know that’s what he means.

      • Deen says:

        The post did not speak of the two-party system.

        But the post did speak about “Our duopolistic political system”, which is not universal.

  4. Archie Clebberdale says:

    Apart from the fact that it’s a dreadful shame that Ayn Rand is given a platform on a skeptical blog given her cult-like behaviour, her economical policy if implemented would lead to a kind of anarchy and anarchies always devolve into dictatorships, in this case a dictatorship of the wealthy. Ayn Rand and her followers may imagine themselves the winners of such a no-holds-barred struggle for money, and maybe they’re right for all I care, but I know that I and most of my compatriots in all likelihood will be the losers. It doesn’t matter what her social ideas actually are – social freedoms, however strongly enshrined in the law, don’t mean a thing unless you’re reasonably wealthy, because otherwise other people will always be able to make you dance to their tune. I’ve unfortunately had some experience being poor and it basically means that other people get to live your life. A good society must at the very least make sure that everyone, regardless of their circumstances, has a decent income and ample spare time. Furthermore, it must try to prevent people from amassing more wealth than necessary for a comfortable lifestyle, because excess wealth almost always ends up being harnessed for political purposes. Additionally, it must actively regulate the marketplace to stimulate competition while nipping monopolies and cartels in the bud.

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      Right. It’s like a bunch of grade school students lobbying for the play ground monitor to go away. Who benefits? The bullies.

    • Double Helical says:

      Quote: “Furthermore, it must try to prevent people from amassing more wealth than necessary for a comfortable lifestyle, because excess wealth almost always ends up being harnessed for political purposes.” Surely this is a joke? Who, pray tell, would decide how much wealth is “necessary?” Who would decide what is a “comfortable lifestyle?” Beyond all that: If I can work at a mundane job that provides me a “comfortable lifestyle” and adequate wealth, what incentive do I have to invent something new? Suppose that, today, I invent a new widget — one that is a great boon to society. I have the opportunity to earn a lot of wealth. It’s my decision whether or not to buy a horse farm for my wife or take a lot of grand vacations. In your scheme, my new-found wealth would be confiscated, by force, because I already had “adequate wealth.” What would my incentive be? Either I would not pursue the invention of the new widget (and society suffers), or I would move to a country (if one exists) where I could enjoy the fruits of my labors. Take the time to think this through. As I posted elsewhere, we need to find a middle ground. I don’t think one has been found yet that is workable.

      • Archie Clebberdale says:

        The middle ground is what I proposed, and I have thought this through. We need a system where on the one hand no one is allowed to be poor, but on the other hand no one is allowed to gather enough wealth to be able to bypass democracy and subvert the republic. And I think we have come far enough as a society to be able to decide collectively what the minimum and maximum limits should be.
        As for your ‘we would no longer have innovation’ argument, well you don’t sound like a typical innovator at all. Because most innovators do what they do out of interest or because it’s part of their perfectly ordinary job description. Only rarely does someone who invents or improves something hit the jackpot. And most people who actually are very rich haven’t put in a decent day’s work in their entire life.
        Your assertion that people would have no incentive to contribute to society is empty, because innovators, hard workers, &c. would still be better off. I think people can see that there needs to be some stimulus to get people out of bed, so to speak, so I don’t think there’d be a real risk of the upper limit getting too close to the lower limit.
        And yes, sometimes the government needs to force people to do something, because otherwise people would do something disastrous. You have no freedom to drive on the wrong side of the road or to kill or lots of other things. The government forces to do or leave many things and that’s perfectly normal. You always have to weigh the freedom of one individual against the freedom of all the other individuals in society.
        As I have demonstrated, my proposal is perfectly sensible. On the one hand it won’t be a society where people aren’t rewarded for effort, but on the other hand it will prevent dangerous excesses. It’s a nice middle ground solution and it’s bizarre that you say it isn’t, especially since your proposal falls on the extreme end of free-for-all capitalistic anarchy.

      • jay says:

        “We need a system where on the one hand no one is allowed to be poor,”

        Why? What about a society where the tools to escape poverty are available to those willing to use them? Plenty of people are poor due to accident of circumstances, plenty of others simply are victims of their own bad habits (I have some of these in my own family). Incidentally, individuals in that first group are often transient poor, people who are poor for a while but eventually climb out. Unlike the permanent poor.

        “As for your ‘we would no longer have innovation’ argument, well you don’t sound like a typical innovator at all. Because most innovators do what they do out of interest or because it’s part of their perfectly ordinary job description”

        So they shouldn’t gain financial reward, because they would ‘just do it anyhow’? If a person works their butt off, should they not make more than someone who doesn’t? If a person applies uncommon skill or intellect to a project should he not earn more reward for their action? Why would you want a system that holds these people down?

        A true free market system involves voluntary contract between buyer and seller (unlike the ‘contract’ we have with government). With all the actors working to improve their particular position there is a huge group dynamic that effectively improves the productivity (i.e. lowers real costs) of society as a whole. True local optimisation doesn’t always produce a fully globally optimized solution, but it historically beats a centrally managed economy, which can neither respond rapidly, nor explore all potential approaches.

        The evil (straw man) monopoly is pretty much always involving government collusion. Monopolies enforce their power with government (ultimate monopoly) cooperation.

        Government has a role: Stand back and keep people honest. Enforce contracts, prosecute fraud and theft. But keep out of the machinery of production.

  5. Luis says:

    Because Ayn Rand’s philosophy doesn’t actually look that good if you don’t happen to be one of the people at the top who can manage with others’ help.

    And because, seriously, every time any of Rand’s heroes opens his/her mouth, what they say can be summarized as “Being a dick to everyone else is my inalienable right”. I only managed to get about 20 pages into The Fountainhead before I was feeling like punching Howard Roark on the face. I really can’t imagine how anyone can sympathize with characters like that.

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      Adolescents who resent being told what to do and are struggling to become autonomous adults often _love_ Ayn Rand. The screw you mentality is appealing to people who haven’t quite grown up yet.

      [BTW: one of my pet peeves with these folks is their assertion as proof about the non-existence of altruism. They state that every act which benefits others could have ulterior motives or somehow benefit the one who does it - therefore the person who does the good act must do the act out of self-interest. Anyone versed in logical fallacies does a spit take when they do this.]

      • Giovanni says:

        Libertarians believe in helping others, we just don’t condescendingly insult others who believe in using state coercion to help others.

        Do you understand that? Or am I just a resentful adolescent?

        The children here are you liberals – the ones that use strawmans anyway.

      • Bad Boy Scientist says:

        sorry to offend but I was referring to Ayn Rand’s Objectivist followers and NOT to Libertarians?

        FWIW: I lean toward Libertarian ideals myself. I think that freedom (personal, economic, any old damn freedom) should be granted until it can be clearly demonstrated that it destabilizes things.
        E.g. the old west “Water Rights Scenario”. If a farmer lives down stream from another farmer, the upstream guy cannot poison the water supply. He loses his ‘right’ to use his property anyway he sees fit because cutting off water or polluting it is destabilizing. It too often leads to violence if you let people ‘sort it out for themselves’ so we have courts enforce laws on the matter.

        Ayn Rand seems naive to me – and the arguments that altruism does not exist is specious. That’s my point.

      • Student says:

        Fuck off. Seriously, constantly saying “Strawman” is not valid criticism. Spot a strawman, call it out, and correct it, or fall foul of the fallacy fallacy-your argument is not correct simply because you call your opponent’s fallacious, whether it is or not.

        Moreover, I’ve heard Penn Jilette talk about this line of reasoning, and it’s bullshit (As he’d say on his show).

        Yes, social security through rates and taxation DOES rob the individual of the capacity to help very poor individuals. It also stops those individuals from DYING. If we leave it to people to donate to charity to fun that, the poor exist merely at the whim of the spare change of the rich. That’s a stupid system, which fails to take into account the needs of the people in the system, and leaves it to people to judge what they need. And individuals are TERRIBLE at that.

        Deciding that there’s a minimum standard of living we should create, by taking from the wealth of everyone in the system, and that there are some resources everyone needs, is not “Coercion”. It’s common fucking sense.

        Who gives a fuck if you’re robbed of the feel-good sensation of paying someone too poor to buy food enough money to live off? More important is that they GET TO LIVE. Social security means that the minimum standard of living is one worth living. And that’s kind of essential. If you still want to donate to the poor, guess what, you still can! But removing the lower limits on a living standard doesn’t say you care about helping people. It says you don’t care if their living standard is abominable. And however kind or generous you might personally be, such a stance is both ignorant, and in light of the facts, selfish and indulgent.

        Can we just stop with the hard-line Libertarianism, especially these stupid statements about charity? It’s really stupid. Really. Really stupid. The only way Libertarianism works is if you violate the principles of the philosophy to prevent the creation of monopolies and inefficiencies. And then we end up with a system which is by and large socially darwinist. Which is an appalling viewpoint for everyone. And anyone who keeps talking about libertarianism without mentioning the obvious point needed for it’s meritocratical aspects to work, the removal of inherited wealth, is really being obvious in their goal: They want to remove the restrictions on their wealth and their business, so that they can exploit it. Not because they’re idealogues or humanists.

        All of those you keep calling liberals (And they’re not, by the way. There are positions both Left and Right of you which disagree with this stance, and those in the extremes, like Socialists and Communists, who disagree with you. Both Republicans and Democrats disagree with your statement. So stop pretending you’re Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck), simply understand that making that system a necessity and planning it out ensures it is spread fairly (They disagree over what is fair, and what the minimum should be), and that relying on specuous charity from those who would destroy systems which protect people is not a viable option. Remember-the reason this system exists is because all people are a part of the system. The rich need the poor to buy their products, and to manufacture them. Without them, their money is worthless. But before those people will disappear, they’ll rise up and revolt. And realising that giving everyone what they need to live rather than waiting for those less well off to beat down your door is not childish. It’s pragmatic.

  6. Mr. Shreck says:

    Liberals will not accept Rand because liberals need a devil just like conservatives, and Ayn Rand, as a moral absolutist who doesn’t believe in charity, turns out to fit the role nicely.

    • LREKing says:

      This IS the same rugged-individualist anti-welfare Ayn Rand who smoked heavily while refusing to accept the connection between smoking and lung cancer, and GOT lung cancer?

      And then spent her declining years accepting Social Security payments and Medicare?

      A great role model for some, perhaps, but not for me.

    • Student says:

      Or because there are better figures? Just because someone fits some of the criterion for a hero for the cause doesn’t demonstrate anything.

      Hitler was a vegetarian. I’m not going to start looking up to him or talking about that part of his philosophy simply because it’s in line with mine, because I disagree with the rest. Social Libertarin aspects of Rand are in agreement with Liberal positions. But her Fiscal positions are in opposition to them, so she’s a terrible example. Simple.

      Very few Liberals consider her a monster. Many people(Not just Liberals) consider her to be a bad example of a libertarian (For all her bashing of charity (And yeah, she did that in Atlas Shrugged) she accepted social security, which she was philosophically against), and a hypocrite, and a very crappy writer who is overly revered for her mediocre novels, simply because they displayed what appeared to be a novel philosophy.

      Cute citing of a cracked article. An internet comedian writing in List form for a comedy site specialising in satire and sarcasm really underlines your point nicely.

      Wait, that was also sarcasm. It undermines it for the ad-hominem it is. It’s not her being seen as a monster. She’s just not a good example. She fits the role POORLY.

  7. Max says:

    Same reason Marx doesn’t go away.

  8. Max says:

    South Park review of Atlas Shrugged

  9. Max says:

    “We found a significant correlation (r=.24)”
    Are you sure it’s significant? It’s pretty small.

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      Well, N > 34000 so a small R can still be very significant

      • Max says:

        Statistically significant, yeah, but the correlation is still small.

      • Eugene says:

        …Meaning it simply describes a very small proportion of observed variability. Read all things with that skeptical grain of salt on the tongue.

      • Bad Boy Scientist says:

        Max – the correlation _coefficient_ is small but with very large populations that’s common. I’m sure Dr Mike thought twice about publishing the values because people who don’t work with comparable data sets could be confused.

    • Phil says:

      When r=0.24, the coefficient of determination (r-squared) is less than 0.06. That means less than six percent of the variation in the survey responses is explained by liberal versus conservative respondents.

      To tell us how statistically significant this is, Michael needed to calculate and specify the p value. That’s the probability that the result is not just chance. He didn’t do so. Lacking the p value, a 0.06 coefficient of determination fails to convince me the result is even worth writing about. 94% of the variation is not explained by his liberal versus conservative independent variables. The other r-squared values in his surveys are a little large but still,account for no more than 10% of the variation in his survey responses.

  10. tmac57 says:

    I consider myself a social liberal and a fiscal conservative,but seem to have very little in common with the core attitude that I hear coming from Libertarians,which is that taxation is theft,and that the free market is always better at solving problems,including social ones.
    I think our nation went off the rails, not by trying to provide a social safety net,but by trying to do that without being willing to pay for it.Our political parties decided that they would try to cater to both factions of society by creating a needed social safety net,but then refusing to require the necessary taxation to pay for it,and pretend that by kicking the debt down the road,that neither side would ever have to make the hard (and politically risky) choices to reconcile the needs of society with the costs to society.
    If we had all along been paying up front for those services that most of us seem to want,then we would have had a price/cost signal that would have told us when we had exceeded the cost benefit ratio of those things.But this isn’t just about social services,it is also about our massive military spending as well,something that most conservatives would fight tooth and claw for,so there is plenty of blame to go around,including and especially the voters who put these people into power decade after decade,without educating ourselves as to who they were,and what they were doing to our economy and society.

    • Daniel says:

      You’re a fiscal conservative? Who knew?

      Anyway, military spending is a lot smaller than it was in the 50s and 60s, at least as a percentage of GDP. So I think it’s a little simplistic to blame debt on military spending. Also, plenty of other industrialized countries, France, Japan and England (not Germany though) have their own debt problems without the large military expenditures that the US has had.

      An interesting argument I’ve heard in the past (which might be the stuff of an interesting future post by Shermer) is that most Americans don’t notice the taxes they pay to the federal government, because even most Americans that are in that 53 percent that gives more to Uncle Sam than they get back, have their income tax withheld, and don’t end up actually writing come tax day (and often get a refund). Love him or hate him, Grover Norquist had a point that if income tax were not withheld and that people actually had to write a check there would be a large scale tax revolt. (I had to do that this year, and had the same, albeit irrational, reaction). Why do you think at the local level, the most contentious tax is the property tax? While I imagine that income tax is withheld in European countries, they also have high consumption taxes, which your everyday tax payer will notice.

      • Jay C says:

        I write a check each year; I’d be crazy to complain about being able to keep my money a little longer than those who have tax withheld. These hypotheticals who would complain about having a measurable financial advantage over their current situation probably aren’t rational enough to be trusted with the vote.

      • tmac57 says:

        You didn’t know because you didn’t ask.
        Military spending in 2010 was about 20% of the budget.That is pretty substantial.I am not saying we shouldn’t spend it,I am saying that when about 30% of our expenditures are not paid for each year,that is a problem,and military spending is 20% of that real problem.

      • Daniel says:

        A few things. When describing any government expenditure, it really makes more sense to look at it as a percentage of the GDP, rather than a percentage of the budget.

        Also “budget” is a little vague in that it appears as if you’re only looking at the federal budget. All in, states and municipalities probably spend just as much as the federal government.

        Again, it’s not to say one way or the other whether the US spends too much on the military. It’s just very simplistic to point to it as the main culprit.

      • tmac57 says:

        I should have been more precise.I assumed when I talked about military expenditures that it would be obvious that I was referring only to federal spending,so my bad.
        The point that I was trying to make is that federal spending should closely match federal revenues.Running huge deficits that compound annually is foolish and short sighted.
        The same goes for state,local,and personal budgets as well.

      • Bad Boy Scientist says:

        If you’re going to do that then you’d better find all of the defense spending hidden in other parts of the budget (and include off budget items like a couple of unknown conflicts East of Israel).

        E.g. Our nuclear weapons are largely paid for through Dept of Energy.

      • Max says:

        This graph counts all defense spending, including veterans affairs and foreign aid, but shows only federal healthcare spending.

        It’s interactive, so it’s easy to change it to include local and state spending, in which case healthcare overtook defense in 1994.

      • Bad Boy Scientist says:

        What does it include in that ‘total Defense’?
        Is it counting the off-budget wars we’ve had for the past decade? Until we get details like that it’s just pretty pictures.

      • Max says:

        Defense spending used to be over 50% of the federal budget and over 10% of the GDP in 1960, and is now around 5% of the GDP and about to be overtaken by growing healthcare spending.

      • markx says:

        tmac57 says: October 23, 2012 at 2:08 pm

        “….Military spending in 2010 was about 20% of the budget….”

        This is the country’s real problem.

        Not that you spend the money: But that you must keep a couple of wars grumbling along somewhere in the world to keep that whole machine ticking over. Otherwise factories shut down, rockets and bombs go stale ….. etc…

        Heads down in Iran.

      • tmac57 says:

        This is what Eisenhower warned us about as he left office…the need to balance a needed and effective military defense,versus the creeping power of the whole enterprise to unduly influence our government and society.

      • Max says:

        Reagan won the Cold War without any large-scale wars. He called it peace through strength, and said, “Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong.”
        Eisenhower delivered his farewell address in 1961, when defense spending was twice what it is now as a percentage of the GDP and of the budget.

    • Janet Camp says:

      Can you (or anyone) define Fiscal Conservative for me? It’s not a label I would think to apply to my own thinking simply because it seems tainted with all the nonsense from the right like being anti-science, anti-choice, etc. Though I am careful with my own money, I don’t equate my finances with those of a government. Economists divide along party lines about the seriousness of the debt and I tend to align with those who feel that it would be much diminished by fuller employment and that a recession is no time for austerity.

      I agree with what you say about the need to pay for what we want, but I guess I see that as “fiscally liberal”.

      • tmac57 says:

        Your last sentence pretty well describes my fiscal ‘conservatism’.

      • Bad Boy Scientist says:

        The Europeans consider the likes of Thatcher and Reagan Fiscal _Liberals_ – and I agree with their terminology. They want _free_ markets after all.

    • LREKing says:

      As a social liberal and fiscal conservative, I was a member of the Libertarian party until it was taken over by John Birchers. Now it’s all about social ultra-conservatism, and they are happy to restrict the freedoms of others if they don’t agree with them.

  11. John H says:

    Assuming that we’re discussing those who identify their political and social positions through reason, then liberals reject Rand’s particular blend of fiscal and social positions because they fail the test against reality. We are obviously social animals. Humans in isolation are pathetic failures in this world. To champion individual rights to the exclusion of common rights is to ignore our entire evolutionary and civil history. One can understand it as a reaction to totalitarian communism similar to that of the social conservatives, but it is a similarly unbalanced and poor argument.

    • Giovanni says:

      “To champion individual rights to the exclusion of common rights is to ignore our entire evolutionary and civil history.”

      When in history did science or morality prove that groups of people have rights, as opposed to individuals possessing rights?

      You don’t make any sense; you just hate Ayn Rand are are making straw man arguments.

      • Bad Boy Scientist says:

        The American Civil War was a statement that groups (ie. The States) had rights. They fought for them.

        The US Constitution establishes some States’ Rights, too.

      • julie r butler says:

        Your repeated argument here is “You don’t make any sense; you just hate Ayn Rand and are making straw man arguments,” and it is getting a little annoying.

        It makes absolute sense that human beings got to the top of the food chain not by running the fastest or having the sharpest claws or the keenest eyesight – we did it by being able to use our brains to develop communication systems that allowed us to exchange ideas and knowledge and work together in communities for our survival.

        Rand’s argument that human beings are isolated individuals who do not depend upon each other is what makes no sense.

        I take “common rights” to mean the rights we all have to infrastructure and the many other benefits of society. They are common to everyone in society, not “rights of groups of people” as you have turned the phrase.

        I am in Uruguay, where we have an ex-Marxist as president and people have been squatting on unused land, and people here understand the concept of the “homeland” in the sense that it is a national treasure, so the homeless peasants have every right to use the land if the owner is going to leave it fallow – I hope you are not thinking of retiring to Uruguay!

        The air we all have a communal right to breath is something that, perhaps, more people can wrap their heads around. And it is a major difference between liberals and Ayn Rand libertarians, who would argue that the private business can pollute all it wants because it is all about freedom, nevermind that it is killing everyone – those with the money can afford better medical, anyway.

      • Double Helical says:

        I agree that humans have survived and evolved because of our ability to communicate and cooperate. For most of our evolutionary past, a human being alone on the savannah or in the jungle would not last long. However, the other side of the coin is that, without the inventiveness of individuals (who rise above their fellow clan members, and think in new ways, and are allowed to pursue new methods or inventions), humans would still be living in clan groups on the savannah, much as our cousins the Chimpanzees still live in the jungle. Both species had a common ancestor 6 million years ago. So why are humans different? I propose that it is because of the occasional individual human genius. But only when the clan allows the individual to pursue new ideas, constructs, and technologies. This, apparently, was not common. Read about the stone age, and how new tool technologies took a long time to appear. For another example: it took modern humans 190,000 years to invent agriculture. Seems like a simple idea to us now. So, yes — we need cooperation and we need society. But no — we need to allow individual humans the freedom to pursue new ideas, and, just as importantly, we need to allow them to benefit from those pursuits. Otherwise, most of them might not even bother. As I posted elsewhere, we need to arrive at a middle ground. Personally, I think it’s going to take a while. None of the “isms” that I’ve read about (and I’m not a philosopher) have hit upon a fantastic *truth* that cannot be denied. There are holes in every theory of social construct, so far as I can tell.

      • Student says:

        1) Fallacy fallacy. Calling “Strawman” repeatedly makes us think you don’t know what it means.

        2) Ayn Rand did support individual freedoms, in fact, that’s something that Liberals often will agree with-however, she did not support social constructs that liberals see as necessary. That’s not hate, that’s polite disagreement.

        3) Accusing someone else of merely “Hating” or being biased is usually a sign you really don’t have any arguments apart from shrieking nonsense and speculating about another persons opinions beyond what they’ve expressed. Hardly a rational view.

  12. Janet Camp says:

    I haven’t read these silly books and I won’t be seeing this silly film. It’s ridiculous that this woman holds so many in thrall when even a casual reading of her own personal history shows her to be nothing more than an average writer with grandiose notions of morality that she herself fell far short of.

    • Daniel says:

      Whatever one thinks of the book (which I haven’t read), the movie was apparently really crappy from a cinematic standpoint.

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      “Nothing more than an average writer” I would say much less than average. Seriously, the sale of her books is more baffling than the sale of _Dianetics_

  13. Retired Prof says:

    Ayn Rand seems to have decided that, since the opposite of bad is good, then the opposite of any bad arrangement is a good arrangement. Soviet Communism is bad, obviously. Therefore laissez-faire capitalism, its opposite, is good.

    Reminds me of a guy raising gerbils who puts their cage in the freezer. When he notices they don’t thrive in that environment, he moves them to the furnace.

  14. Marnie says:

    The way I see it, the right (right now) holds up god (abrahamic, of course) as the most effect way to manage a society. The left figures a democratically elected government is the most effect way to manage a society. The libertarians believe that the free market is the most effect way.

    Each is a system that is mutually exclusive from the other two and none of these options is without fraud and corruption. So the question is not whether you can picture an idealized version of each. Obviously, people who care, do. The question is really, how is the inevitable corruption and fraud are addressed within the system?

    There is plenty of fraud within the US government, no doubt about it, but of the three options, only a representative government has the checks and balances to right the wrongs. Whether or not that happens is another matter, but a theocracy has no checks and balances and the free market has never shown itself to be self regulating. It is regulators that come along to manage the free market, in response to fraud. This is not about my rights versus your rights. This is about giving everyone a fair chance. If the economy is destroyed by someone else’s abuse of the free market and I can’t find work, then that person’s desire to tinker with mortgages, came right up against my desire to to be gainfully employed. A well managed regulatory system would prevent businesses from making choices that take life altering choices away from others. The market has its value and there is good reason to regulate it only as far as necessary to protect the best interest of the economy and society, but businesses have long shown themselves willing to provide unsafe working conditions, and make horrible environmental and economic choices in order to increase revenue.

    Rand may make an argument that free market is self correcting, but it’s fiction and I’ve yet to see it play out anywhere in fact. The most prosperous countries, with the highest quality of life and equality, are often countries with high taxes and many social programs. Until I see evidence to the contrary, I have no reason to embrace Rand’s philosophy.

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      Virtually anyone who is knowledgeable about economics and sane accepts that modern nations need to have mixed economy of sorts. Nations with truly free markets cannot defend themselves against economic ‘aggression’

      • Giovanni says:

        Based on what facts?

      • Bad Boy Scientist says:

        Look at the history of trade wars. Geesh.

      • Student says:

        I’m pretty sure this is just some objectivist kid running his mouth, as opposed to anyone serious.

        He doesn’t understand rationalism, or logical fallacies, he’s not interested in discussion, and he’s ignorant of economics, and rather than admit that, he’ll question the knowledge of anyone who knows more.

  15. country girl says:

    You have to use common sense when sorting through your biases and what you discriminate against. I don’t like boiled hot dogs and I discriminate againt them. A reasonable and logical bias. You stated about the film industry “blatant sexuality in which women show far more skin than men”. For the most part movie producers and others involved in the financing and production of movies are not stupid. It should be obvious that the reason women who star in movies are attractive and show more skin then the male stars seems so clear that I don’t need to explain it. The producer and certainly the money man are trying to make a profit and sex sells. They aren’t trying to meet some arbitrary and constant changing standard of fairness and equality. To cite this as an example of “discriminating against women” makes me doubt everything else you say.

  16. oldebabe says:

    Reading Atlas Shrugged at 26, I enjoyed it, thought it was a good story, liked or disliked the characters (go Dagny et al) I was meant to like or dislike, thought John Galt character was `meh’ and skipped all those pages and pages of what I thought of as just his rant/justification of what he was about. I couldn’t understand why it was panned by literary critics – I thought it was interesting .. just a kind of adventure story.

    Re-reading at 55 I could still see this as basically an enjoyable fiction read, and still with interesting ideas as portrayed by the characters, that piqued my imagination, but now inescapably larded with opinion and large amounts of political and philosophical ideas, some good, some simply not do-able…( I finally read those 62 or so pages of `rant’). By then of course it and its author were constantly being trashed for poor writing and controversial viewpoints.

    Re-reading at 82, in spite of all of Rand’s personal bad press, AS still seems to be timely and her ideas (some good, some not so do-able – read it for yourselves, people) still inspiring so much conversation.. Good that you stay the good skeptic, Dr. Shermer.

  17. Brian says:

    A year or two ago I started reading Libertarian economists like Hayek and Mises and following Libertarian blogs. It all seems pretty reasonable when you dig into it with an open mind. Very persuasive.

    Once you buy into the economics side of it, the rest comes pretty easy. If you buy into Libertarian economic thought then free markets are the most effective, most efficient way to distribute goods and services in a population. From the Liberal point of view, if free markets work better than everything else, then the best way to achieve Liberal outcomes is to let the market work and get out of the way. The next logical step is to try to reign in Government so that it doesn’t interfere with the market and create perverse outcomes.

    Problem was, I kept reading, and after about a year or so I emerged from the rabbit hole and took a breath of air. I had lost my Free Market religion with further study and once the underpinning beliefs of Market Supremacy fell away, it was impossible to remain Libertarian in my outlook.

    Free Market Fundamentalism relies on certain beliefs that cannot be proven. You cannot prove that a completely unfettered free market is the best way to distribute goods and services among a population. You have to believe it–it is an article of Faith. As such, Free Market Fundamentalism is very much akin to a religion. And like religious beliefs, free market beliefs are resistant to change.

    Why won’t Atlas Shrugged go away? Same reason the Bible doesn’t–both contain convenient stories that serve to prop up unprovable beliefs.

    “– There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”


  18. d brown says:

    No liberal would think i was one. But all the right i have met says I am, when they are not calling me a commie. Retired Prof is right about Rand and here fans. “since the opposite of bad is good, then the opposite of any bad arrangement is a good.” No it can be and has been much worse. I read and reread her book,its just for making a point like a cartoon. Many just into collage young often fall in love with it. Mostly they outgrow it. I read she was getting welfare when she was dying and her money was gone for med bills.

  19. Pete says:

    My biggest issue with Randian types is that all of them think they are makers instead of takers, regardless of how much outside help they have been getting. Far too many of them would be on the B ark….

  20. Old Rockin' Dave says:

    While we worry about all the debt we owe to China, it gives us great power too. I would imagine that to the Chinese leadership the three scariest English words are “devalue the dollar”.

  21. GoodReason says:

    Didja know: there’s one thing that correlates extremely well with climate denialism, HIV denialism, and conspiracy theorism…

    …and that’s total acceptance of laissez-faire free-marketeering.

    The paper: “NASA faked the moon landing|Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science”

    • markx says:

      Ya gotta be kidding … that paper is an abomination.

      A web survey with about 1150 respondents, and of those 10 thought the moon landing was faked. 6 of those fell into the smaller group who did not accept the AGW theory and 4 fell into the larger group who did.

      Remarkably easy ‘scientific publishing': web survey, no control over data quality, churn it through a stats package, publish showing only statistical correlations and no raw data tables.

      Must have take all of two hours to do.

  22. Bad Boy Scientist says:

    There’s an old joke about a physicist who is hired by a dairy farmer as a consultant. The physicist starts out by saying “Let us assume a spherically symmetric cow that emits milk radially…”

    Libertarians and Objectivists and Marxists and (or so many others) make the same mistake as this physicist: they assume away all of the devilish details which make it hard to solve real life problems. Then they proudly come to the One And Only True Solution. They shake their heads at all of the dimwitted people who cannot grasp this One And Only True Solution – and it is so obvious, too. Of course, the thing is when they simply everything they assume away the real problem.

    • tmac57 says:

      Love this comment!!!
      There is something very seductive about the idea of a ‘sliver bullet’ for (insert your problem here),whether it be medical,social,puzzle in science..or whatever.

      For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong. – H. L. Mencken

    • Double Helical says:

      You forgot to add: “Liberals” and “Conservatives.”

  23. Alfuso says:

    Because She’s boring.

  24. Philipp says:

    One significant reason for the American two party system is its plurality voting system. In Europe, most countries have a proportional system and smaller parties easily enter parliament. That’s why Germany has a conservative party CDU/CSU, a social democratic party SPD, a liberal party FDP, a green party Bündnis90/Die Grünen and a socialst party Die Linke (even though Germany has a 5% threshold).

    Considering Ralph Naders 2.74% in 2000, in a proportional system a green party would be in Congress, just as there would be a Tea Party (which would probably benefit moderate Republicans who in the current system need to please their extreme conservative base).

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      Yes. Our system favors two parties.
      My opinion is this is a disservice to American voters… if for you other reason having multiple viable candidates would put a stop to running on the platform “I’m not as bad as the other guy!”

      • Student says:

        This is brilliant. Two party systems are an abject failure, because people are fooled into thinking they must try to elect the lesser of two evils, rather than place their vote in a minority party with a minimal impact. It would require a massive change in voting habits for anyone to be able to vote for anyone who actually represented their positon.

        Libertarian? You’re not getting what you want.
        Conservative, but no religious? You’re not getting what you want.
        Socialist? You’re not getting what you want.

        Instead, everyone votes for a sort of ‘meh’ conglomeration of likes and dislikes.

  25. Stig K says:

    There seems to be a misunderstanding here in the discussion of the “Why two parties” and “Why 3rd parties struggle” questions, one I’ve noticed in Haidt’s writing too. In evolutionary psychology you don’t normally try to explain something in evolutionary terms unless it’s to some extent universal across human cultures. Political systems have anywhere from 0 to 10 and more parties, so it’s far more likely the differences are due to historical and cultural differences than to evolutionary commonalities.

    And in fact there is already a well-known reason in political science why countries like the U.S. and the U.K. tend toward a two-party system: They use a “winner-takes-all” system for elections. The person who gets the most votes in one precinct (whether a county or an entire state) carries all the votes. So for a party getting even a substantial percentage of the vote nationwide is worthless if their candidates finish second, third or fourth in most of the precincts, and this arrangement benefits the top two parties enormously.

    If you want a less polarized U.S. political landscape, the obvious technical solution is to switch to more proportional representation where every vote counts, as in most of Europe for example. Due to the inertia of the status quo it would still take some time for Libertarians, Greens and others to get real influence of course.

    An interesting question is why in the U.K. smaller parties have relatively more influence than in the U.S.; The Liberal Democrats (3rd party) are actually in a coalition government right now even though their representation in parliament is much lower than their % of the national vote (due to the winner-takes-all system). Some parties get representation because they focus on only one nation and score big there (Scottish National Party, Ulster Unionists etc.). But again, these differences are certainly systemic, cultural and/or historical rather than evolutionary.

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      Thank you for posting this comment. Good points and you raise an interesting question.

  26. Mrs Grimble says:

    For me, the objection against Objectivism is that, out of all the myriad human societies that have been created over the last three or four millennia, not one resembling Objectivism has ever (apparently) been created, let alone survived.
    Yet, if it’s such an excellent system, somebody somewhere would have tried it, surely?

    • Double Helical says:

      Mrs. Grimble,
      I think that you may have forgotten that modern humans have been on this planet for about 200,000 years. The “three or four” millenia that we have some inkling about because of archeology or written records do not give us any insight into what happened during the other 196,000 years of modern humanity. Anthropologists tell us only that the evidence shows that humans lived in small groups, probably clans. This is the milieu that we need to think about when we make an attempt at evolutionary psychology. All that history began to change when agriculture, animal husbandry, and permanent habitations were invented, perhaps 10,000 years ago. So, our “modern” society has its roots in an agricultural past where people lived together in permanent habitations. I can speculate that the roots of the notions “fair share” and “equal effort”, as well as “loafer” and “freeloader” came about as a result of this new mode of survival.

      • Retired Prof says:

        There’s an article over at Slate Magazine (Ayn Rand vs. the Pygmies, by Eric Michael Johnson, Oct. 3, 2012) that establishes pretty convincingly that those notions listed in your last sentence were extremely important to hunter/gatherers.

  27. Soren says:

    I guess the fact that she is a terrible writer has something to do with it.

    Atlas Shrugged was very poorly written.

    To put it simply

    some writers have good ideas
    some writers write well
    some writers make up interesting story lines.

    Few writers have two of these traits, and very few have all three.

    The problem with Ayn Rand for me is, that she writes like shit, and the story line is shit.

    If you find super egotists to be interesting, then you might find that her ideas are interesting, but since I do not see anything interesting about egotism, I generally just ignore her.

    • Student says:

      Of course, if you like egotistical characters, but you like egotistical characters whos ego is a result of actual superiority or talent (Rodney McKay, or BBC’s Sherlock, or Jonathan Creek), then you’ll also be boned.

  28. Michael Powers (@louiszwu) says:

    It is hard for me to take seriously this hateful, bitter woman, whose writing and personal hygiene were both equally offensive. She considered everyone besides herself inherently expendable. As far as I’m concerned, she’ll never be dead enough.

    • Bad Boy Scientist says:

      To be fair, she escaped the Russian Revolution and it traumatized her. I’ve read a bunch of AR books – I started with _We The _Living_ because I was told it was semi-autobiographical … it gave me a lot more insight into her thoughts when I got to _The Fountainhead_ and _Atlas Shrugged_ (In a very weird way, I’ve always thought she was like Scarlet O’Hara – a young women who was denied growing up as she’d hoped and remained a broken person ever after)

      • Bad Boy Scientist says:

        BTW: Ayn Rand is a lot like JK Rowling, too – as she became more popular, her writing quality went down.

  29. Chris Mohr says:

    Going back to Shermer’s original headline, “Why Ayn Rand Won’t Go Away,” her being a political “outlier” in a two two-party (conservative v liberal) country sure doesn’t provide an answer. Speaking for myself, when I discovered Ayn Rand as a 16 year old, it gave me a focus on my Self. It was a paradigm shift to understand my core value as an individual and the value of all other individuals. As a kid I valued family, country, etc. Although I am no longer a hard-core libertarian, Rand’s neo-Aristotelian rationalism, libertarianism, etc continues to inform me today. In the world of politics I ask myself, if we have a common social goal we want to enshrine in law, what is the least invasive way to accomplish that end? In my interactions with others, I try not to force my views on others. When encountering a new theory or idea, I assume that using my rational faculties is essential. My sense of self is deeply informed by having read Ayn Rand. People who put down her absolutism, her nasty judgments, her ruthlessness, no compromise positions, her lionizing of capitalists, her second-rate writing style, etc seem to ignore the fact that she addresses a core need of people to find that the individual counts for something, for a lot.

    • Retired Prof says:

      Chris Moore, your post illustrates that there are many paths to the same place.

      I run my day-to-day living very much the way you describe. I adapted the approach from my Christian upbringing; however, having abandoned the irrational supernatural and ceremonial elements, I call myself a secular christian, with a small c. You kept the good parts of Libertarianism even though you are no longer hard-core; you could call yourself a small-l libertarian.

  30. Henk Meevis says:

    One may like, or one may not like, Ayn Rand’s writings. One may or may not like the Christ or the Allah stories. To just filter out three of the many, not necesarily in that order and omitting deliberately any specific political directions. Fact remains that the three chosen names have, by word magnetism, formed large groups on our planet. They have polarized (no pun intended) and over time became powerful and, as such things do happen, power is addictive. And we know, addiction becomes devotive to the means and leads to mental distorsion and thus to disturbance and often to physical aggression. It very rarely leads to frictionless society and unbelievable contentment.

  31. Jonathan says:

    Just a comment about the morality test, which I took. There are several questions about right and wrong, which I thought were ambiguous. I think a distinction needs to be made between something that is morally “wrong” vs. bad policy.

  32. Jenn says:

    I’m a Libertarian, but am also biased against Aine Raine. Too many shrill shrieking shrew feminists have barked at me to read that book and that is enough to get my feeling mulish and say “Never.”

  33. Bad Boy Scientist says:

    A crazy thought about “Why Ayn Rand Won’t Go Away?”

    Maybe it is for the same reason Scientology and Mormonism won’t go away – they set up a cult-like organization early on formed around a ‘charismatic’ leader – now followers keep perpetuating it long after the leader dies. In the early stages they built up enough ‘zealot-energy’ to become self-perpetuating.

    I am sure that there are other cult-like organizations formed around others (Nikola Telsa almost qualifies) but I grabbed those two because they are widely known… and very wacky. For all of its flaws, Objectivism makes a _lot_ more sense than Scientology so it is more reasonable for it to hang around.

  34. Robert Sheaffer says:

    Liberals will never accept Ayn Rand because, even though her heroines are dramatically heroic, they still want to find a man to look up to. She famously said, “For a woman qua woman, the essence of femininity is hero-worship—the desire to look up to man. “To look up” does not mean dependence, obedience or anything implying inferiority. It means an intense kind of admiration; and admiration is an emotion that can be experienced only by a person of strong character and independent value-judgments” (

    See “Feminist Interpretations of Ayn Rand (Gladstein and Scibarra, 1999), a book to which I contributed one chapter.

    • Student says:

      Or, because she wasn’t a Liberal. You don’t accept as a Liberal icon, or an example of a Liberal, someone who wasn’t a Liberal.

      Duh. Why Shermer doesn’t get this is beyond me.

      Sure, she may have advocated for civil rights. As did many others. She really doesn’t make for an outstanding case. Moreover, her fiscal beliefs, and her writing put her at odds with Liberal views.

  35. 666isMONEY says:

    Ha, ha, Rand is a joke. Modern machinery should make money superfluous, money is slavery, half the people in U$A work at unnecessary jobs pushing papers, not producing anything.

  36. Andrew says:

    Because whenever I talk to an objectivist, they are insufferable jerks with a very high opinion of themselves.

  37. Weezilla says:

    Ayn Rand was a facist sociopath and her followers treat Objectivism like a cult religion.
    Everyone knows that she did not believe in altruism, charity or philanthropy. She did, however believe in Eugenics and the concept of the Ubermermensch. She even admired child murder William Hickman as a ‘superman’.
    She was also a McCarthyist that ratted out her peers and coworkers to the House Un-American Activities Committee during the Red scare that got decent people blacklisted. What kind of a liberal would support a person like that?
    Meanwhile she was not even a good writer! Her novels only appeal to the most puerile and narcissistic type of personality.

    • Student says:

      Look up Fascist please. Authoritarian traits are diametrically opposed to Libertarian ideals.

      Educate yourself. Facism is pretty much a right-leaning authoritarian system. Libertarianism is a right-leaning (Fiscally) non-authoritarian system.

      Libertarianism doesn’t include overt calls for nationalism, national service, militarism, or any of the traits involved in Facism, and Objectivism and the writings of Rand certainly indicated no such thing.

  38. Charles Schisler says:

    Ayn Rand may not be the greatest writer, but she was the best writer I had found to critique altruism. All the words in Atlas Shrugged were written to lead into Galt’s Speech of some 60 or 70 pages. Other brief words could have been used.

    The greed of a businessman who creates a thriving company employing a thousand workers will do more good for society than a thousand charity workers. When you subsidize poverty and failure, you get more of both.
    The primary cause of poverty is too many people in families or in a locale, usually for generations, for their proper development.
    By ignoring birth control and education – charity and medical aid only increaes their numbers to perpetuate misery! To bring more unwanted, destitute children into this world is mankind’s greatest crime!

    Charles Schisler

    • tmac57 says:

      So, it would be more humane to let them starve,and die of untreated illness,so that they can no longer plague our society with their unwanted numbers…crime solved.It’s really so simple.

      • oldebabe says:

        No, it’s better that they not be brought into the world to begin with!

      • tmac57 says:

        Okay,the answer to the problem then is that only people who can afford children shall be allowed to breed,and of those only the healthy children should be brought to term.Have I got that right?
        We could go farther still.Anyone who, for whatever reason,becomes a burden on society,whether through fault of their own,or just by plain old bad luck,must not be helped,because that will only encourage bad behavior,and unlucky people.Once we rid ourselves of these onerous burdens that are dragging down society,then we can have our happy,peaceful,and productive world,and all will be lovely.

      • Double Helical says:

        I know that you are only trying to make the point that an enlightened society does not deliberately starve people to death. However, in arguments of this kind, I always see a false dichotomy. The opposite view, the other side of the dichotomy, is that sheer economics dictates that a society cannot subsidize every single citizen. Both points are true. What we need (and I believe that you both would agree that common ground is needed) is some rational middle-ground policy that would help those that need help without encouraging those that don’t. I have yet to find a practical mechanism that provides a solution to that conundrum. If one exists, I’d like to hear about it.

      • tmac57 says:

        Yes,you understood my point very well.And I also agree that a rational middle ground is the way to go.
        Many people point to countries like Norway,Denmark,Sweden,Canada etc. that seem to have a much larger amount of what some would demonize as socialism,and note that they tend to have greater happiness and satisfaction with their governments and society.
        Are they perfect? Certainly not,but maybe we can learn a bit from their experience…or not :(

      • Student says:

        Also, good point tmac: Some Americans call it socialism. It isn’t. That’s not what socialists believe in. Taxes aren’t really so much a socialist thing, they’re the implementation of that sentiment to a capitalist system.

        Helical: Why not? Why can we not decide that everyone deserves to be able to afford to eat, to have healthcare, and to be able to support themselves through work whilst still having free time, and why can’t we subsidise a reasonable standard of living when work is not available. So long as there are positions better than the minimum, people will aim for them (In fact, that competitive spirit is supposedly why Free Markets would work). Everyone’s worried about welfare leeches, but if we’d pay for welfare rather than indebting ourselves, and investigate welfare recipients properly, then we’d cease to have a problem.

  39. John Kent says:

    I’ve found that there are 3 camps when it comes to Rand.
    Love her/Hate her/Never Heard of her, which I find fascinating. As a person she comes from a social, political & economically interesting background.

    While her style of writing is horrible and I had the specific thought that Atlas Shrugged would make a horrible movie, she writes with great passion and directness I didn’t expect from a woman of her time and I was glad to have that expectation shattered.

    Atlas Shrugged is not for a lay reader. I enjoyed it much more once I realized what it really is: a philosophical dissertation, not a novel. When a story has a 60 page monologue about the premise A=A this is not a book to be read strictly for the plot.

    After watching documentaries about her and reading Atlas Shrugged, I have come away with this assessment:
    Rand starts with a philosophically rich soil but builds out of it a moral tower with a skewed climax. I think she suffers the same fate all philosophers face.

    Moral philosophers like Rand sought to explain by rational means the cause and solution to the strife’s of their time. In this sense Rand’s parallel is Karl Marx. Marx lived during a time that the abuse of power by nobility caused social inequality and suffering. So to solve that problem he created a philosophical framework to erect a new social structure, but he did not live long enough to see his philosophy played out as an experiment in history.

    Rand creates her philosophy in response to the experiment that Marx missed; it is the counter hypothesis to Marx.
    However, both Marx and Rand lived during an economic environment much different than our modern economy. Thier’s was an economy centered on manufacturing. During their time extreme wealth was tied to the manufacturing of concrete products.

    The magnitude and rate at which wealth can be accumulated in our modern economy might have been unfathomable to them. Modern banks and stock markets work in a way that neither may have anticipated.

    The complexity of the modern stock market with aspects like derivatives and debt market, and banks gaining most of their money from shareholders, financial services and fees creates an economy where wealth can be created and lost overnight.

    Modern secular democracies have found a reasonable solution to the old injustices wrought by governments run by those who claimed authority from Divinity and Nobility. Humanities moral philosophers are still trying to work out how to limit the abuse of power by those who gain their power by economic means.

    In Rand’s own words:
    “I believe in a separation of Economy and State”.
    If only we really knew how to actualize this.

    • julie r butler says:

      “Rand starts with a philosophically rich soil but builds out of it a moral tower with a skewed climax. I think she suffers the same fate all philosophers face.”

      That’s interesting… The way I see it is that she started out with an idea about the primacy of individualism and reverse-engineered from the top down, which is why her philosophy is structurally unsound. All of this is hilarious, considering that her other novel is about an architect.

      • Student says:

        It would be, but architects aren’t in charge of structural integrity. That’s Structural and Civil Engineers.

        Sorry, I ruined your irony.

      • julie r butler says:

        Except that it points out how architecture is a collaborative profession – so thanks for that.

  40. js290 says:

    I think our first-past-the-post voting system has more to do with the duopoly than the article gives credit for. Take a look at Duverger’s Law and Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma.

  41. Fred Kohler says:

    Ayn Rand hated authoritarian government because living in her youth under Bolshevism she experienced the consequences of it.
    Ayn Rand hated racism because she was a Jew, although an atheist.
    Ayn Rand hated discrimination against women because she was a talented women.
    Outside of that potential appeal to liberals she advocated total irresponsibility to to the community, as her novel “Atlas Shrugged” makes very clear. Its not a workable system. The political and economic structure of a society is much too difficult to discuss in a brief blog. Generally I advocate a middle ground between community and selfish interests.

    • Double Helical says:

      Middle ground! Of course! But how to achieve it? As I stated earlier, I have yet to find a practical mechanism that provides a solution to that conundrum. If one exists, I’d like to hear about it.

  42. Will Heusser says:

    Shermer, stop drinking the Rand/Libertarian Kool-aid. There is a reason why academic ethicists and philosophers ignore Rand generally. It is not because she is a woman or because she was an atheist and it is not because she argues for “fiscal conservativism”, it is because she is inconsistent and her arguments, where they exist, are unoriginal and clearly unsound. It is isn’t surprising why Fox News runs interviews with the Atlas Shrugged director whenever it gets a chance. She’s a shill for corporate freedom and deregulation and not individual freedom or civil rights. If Rand, like tea party people, were even 10% as afraid of gigantic international corporations that pollute elections, worker rights, and the environment as they are of “big government” (which continues to get smaller every day), perhaps America could join the international community in spending much needed money on education and infrastructure. There are plenty of Atheists and Christians in philosophy and there are plenty of conservatives and liberals. But hardly anybody in philosophy cares about Rand and her “virtue of selfishness” because it isn’t anything more than what Mill’s Utilitarianism offers in maximizing happiness except for an explicit attempt by Rand to ignore whatever result happens to anybody but herself. Adam Smith already argued about the benefits of capitalism. Check. Mill already argued you should pursue the maximization of happiness. Check. Only Rand argued that altruism is wrong and one should follow one’s self-interest to hell and high water regardless of the effect on society. And if she IS saying society will benefit from your selfishness? Then that’s just Mill’s Utilitarianism folks. Recycle your Rand and read some Mill instead. Wrong or not, Mill had a worked out system and gives credit where credit is due. If you want to read libertarian drivel, at least Rudy Guiliani has an occasional sense of humor.

    • Hector says:

      I believe Will is headed in a direction that is likely to produce more light than heat when he notes that Rand’s arguments are inconsistent, unsound. An example or two would be helpful, something to which others might respond more precisely and logically than we as humans are wont to do.

      Since Rand extols reason (As I recall, valid and sound deductive arguments and strong empirical arguments would fall within her “definition” of reason.), if one is able to demonstrate that one or more of her foundational libertarian arguments is flawed deductively or very weak inductively then by her own standards her theory might well be hopelessly flawed.

      Also, it might be constructive to use language more precisely. “Self-interest” is not a synonym for “selfish” is it? Does Rand assume that it is? And “right” or “fairness”?? The latter seem to be used more often for their emotive strength than their conceptual clarity in the comments and replies I have read. Does Rand give precise definitions of terms central to her arguments? I don’t recall that being the case from my reading of “The Virtue of Selfishness.” But it’s been many years since last I read it.

  43. Henk Meevis says:

    One can read in several comments that Ayn Rand is an atheist. This assumption may be correct although I wish to express my doubts.
    If the meaning of atheism means that there exists no God, and the meaning of religious believe states as fact that there does exist a God, both side have as yet not come forth with any proof to support the particular stance they take.
    Consequently I say that the atheist on the one side, and the believer on the other, are harping the same fiddle. Stringing the same tune without foundation, without any fact to prove their stance.
    It would most certainly enhance their status in humbly delaring, We Simply Do Not Know. In that way a degree of realistic honesty would precipitate into the argument, for those who the question still may be an argument, Atheist or Believer.

    • Nathair says:

      “If the meaning of atheism means that there exists no God”

      That is not what the word commonly means.

    • Marnie says:

      Henk, could you please prove, to whatever level of satisfaction would suffice for an atheist to disprove a god or gods, that my imaginary friend, who cannot be seen and operates outside the realm of the physical world, is not, in fact a god and very real? He has assured me that he wants you to send me 10% of your money so that I might put it to good use. If you do, he’ll give you lots of money in another life. If you don’t you’ll get eternal torment. So go ahead, please disprove him. If you don’t you are just harping the same fiddle as all those atheists.

      If you actually took some time to talk to atheists, they’d point out that most believers reject all other gods and that atheists just put another one the list. You absolutely cannot function in life if you walk around accepting that every claim made might be valid. Eventually, you function with the understanding that until some proof comes along to convince you otherwise, you must function as though extraordinary claims are untrue. A magical being is an extraordinary idea and based on all available evidence, no religious claim differs in any meaningful way from any other. They are all unverifiable, untestable and unfalsifiable and all are mutually exclusive from each other. So yes, atheists are like believers in that they reject the claims of all the other beliefs, but they go one religion further than the believer.

  44. Ted Fontenot says:

    That link shows why Rand’s philosophy, and those of Libertarianism, are not sustainable. She and Libertarians have the idea that society exists solely to vindicate the rights of individuals. That’s just wrong. We have other, more, or at least, equally pressing concerns. That view of the social construct is not substantiated by sociobiology or evolutionary psychology.

  45. Double Helical says:

    I don’t believe that you can substantiate any modern social construct by using the methods of evolutionary psychology. Our understanding of the social constructs of various clan groups, which likely existed for 190,000 years, is only dimly perceived and based on conjecture. Moreover, some have conflated that dim understanding of evolved clan structure with recent organizational constructs that began with the invention of agriculture and large, multi-family, permanent settlements within the last 10 or 15 thousand years. Permanent settlements required new social constructs that we did not evolve. Humans had to create them. We are still working on it. So far, we haven’t created a perfect society, as is obvious.

  46. LREKing says:

    From my perspective, the biggest differences between liberals and conservatives is in the size of their tribes.

    Conservatives can care intensely about their own families and friends, but not give a damn about what happens to some starving homeless person.

  47. Michael Miller says:

    Rand is not embraced by the left for the same reason Rand did not embrace the left.
    Unlike Rand and her various counterparts, the left is well aware that capitalism is a self-replicating machine, dedicated in both design and function to extract “wealth” (product or service) from those who create it for the benefit of Capital, those who already possess a surplus. Result? Capitalism is a positive feedback engine which is designed to ‘swing to the rail’ (feudalism or slavery) and then STOP forever, forbidding any social mobility whatever.
    Every portion of her rants precedes from the assertion that there is a “creative class” and a “Repeater class” of what she called “Parasites and Drones”.
    This “Creative class” is always rich, ignoring that the genius of every society is often poor (Einstein never made more than 5 figures any year of his life) and that the fastest way to wealth, indeed the most common way to be of the “1%” is to INHERIT the social and economic position.
    Her refusal to deal with this reality makes her self-interest philosophy nothing but a solipsistic exercise in aggrandizement of the holders of wealth at the expense of those who create it.

    • Another point of view says:

      Are you forgetting the composer. His reward, other than money, was the respect and acknowledgement from those that appreciated his creations.

  48. Beelzebud says:

    I have a book recommendation for Mr. Shermer.

    It’s called Why People Believe Weird Things.

    You might have heard of the author before. All kidding aside, it still amazes me how an intelligent guy like Shermer could have such blinders on when it comes to this topic. Did someone trade in their fundamentalist christian past, for a new cult-like belief system?

  49. DrXym says:

    Objectivism is shaped by its most prominent narrative, that nobody deserves anything they didn’t get through their own efforts. It’s a manifesto for selfishness and an excuse for the worst kind of behaviour. Hey, it’s okay I screwed over all those own workers because I have a “philosophy” to justify it and explain why its actually their own fault.

    Perhaps Rand did say other things but within the framework of the above and its not surprising if those other things don’t make the same impact. It sort of reminds me of a defence I read about David Icke once, that occasionally he makes intelligent and thought provoking observations – yes while spinning a tale about space lizards. Any message is lost in a cloud of crazy.

    • Another point of view says:

      Trading with people who have free will is not screwing them. If you don’t value yourself highly, why should anyone else. If you are willing to work for an hour making a computer and only demand a candy bar as payment, whose fault is that?

  50. LordGriggsSkepticGriggsyCarneadesHume says:

    Why not use her philosophy as a foil for a humanist one like [Google:] covenant morality for humanity-the presumption of humanism. Why not treat her as a serious philosopher so as to eviscerate all forms of egoists on back to the Greeks? Why not correct her view of the mystic and the man of the mind and her false history of philosophy in ” For the New Intellectual?”
    Student, and others,thank you!
    Michael, Adam Smith did not validate laissez-faire capitalism as comments show. Please read Krugman!

  51. brad says:

    “For the record, I shall repeat what I have said many times before: I do not join or endorse any political group or movement. More specifically, I disapprove of, disagree with and have no connection with, the latest aberration of some conservatives, the so-called “hippies of the right,” who attempt to snare the younger or more careless ones of my readers by claiming simultaneously to be followers of my philosophy and advocates of anarchism. Anyone offering such a combination confesses his inability to understand either. Anarchism is the most irrational, anti-intellectual notion ever spun by the concrete-bound, context-dropping, whim-worshiping fringe of the collectivist movement, where it properly belongs.”

    [Ayn Rand, “Brief Summary,” The Objectivist, September 1971]

    “Above all, do not join the wrong ideological groups or movements, in order to “do something.” By “ideological” (in this context), I mean groups or movements proclaiming some vaguely generalized, undefined (and, usually, contradictory) political goals. (E.g., the Conservative Party, which subordinates reason to faith, and substitutes theocracy for capitalism; or the “libertarian” hippies, who subordinate reason to whims, and substitute anarchism for capitalism.) To join such groups means to reverse the philosophical hierarchy and to sell out fundamental principles for the sake of some superficial political action which is bound to fail. It means that you help the defeat of your ideas and the victory of your enemies.”

    [Ayn Rand, “What Can One Do?” Philosophy: Who Needs It]