Atlas Blogged 27iii: Libertopia and unconditional love

October 30, 2010

Part 27iii of blogging my way through my first reading of Atlas Shrugged. You can find the first part here.

Chapter 27: ‘This is John Galt Speaking’

This section of Galt’s speech is largely concerned with how clever he was in recognising that the evil socialists who took over the 20th Century Motor Company were out to destroy him by converting him into their property; enslaving his mind in the process. This bit is actually an interesting indictment of libertarian thought: it demonstrates that libertarianism arises less from a wish to be free of the state and more a wish to be free from being responsible for the consequences of your choices on other people. This is interesting, inasmuch as it’s inversion of the charge that Rand lays against socialists: they wish to abnegate on their responsibility to deal with the consequences of their choices with respect to reality; libertarians wish to do the same with respect to the other. In this sense, ‘libertarianism’ may be inappropriate as a lable for this creed; ‘radical solipsism’ might be more appropriate.

She then continues her brief historical interlude by talking about how the Dark Ages were when the mind went on strike. Or went to Byzantium, perhaps, but we’ll skip over her utter lack of anything even approaching historical knowledge.

Rand then says: “There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil.” This is interesting, inasmuch as it’s a radical departure from Aristotle’s Doctrine of the Mean, which states that the virtuous life is lived in between extremes of sin and arrogant righteousness. It’s possible that this demonstrates that Rand doesn’t realise she’s actually advocating a theory of ethics with moral components bolted on. Certainly, the rather Manichean approach she takes to the morality she judges to be her opponent would indicate this; yet more evidence that either Rand is being purposively obfuscatory or simply doesn’t understand what she’s saying. It also explains why her characters tend to one extreme or another; there is no sliding scale between extremes in AtlasWorld.

We then have the surprisingly broad statement:

“Do you ask if it’s ever proper to help another man? No—if he claims it as his right or as a moral duty that you owe him. Yes—if such is your own desire based on your own selfish pleasure in the value of his person and his struggle.”

This could mean practically anything; knowledge that one receives altruistic pleasure from helping other could constitute just cause to, say rob from the rich to give to the poor. This is another example of the internal inconsistency of Rand’s philosophy; one can use parts of it to argue for any course of action one chooses that may run counter to other parts.

Rand has an interesting pop at human rights:

“The doctrine that ‘human rights’ are superior to ‘property rights’ simply means that some human beings have the right to make property out of others; since the competent have nothing to gain from the incompetent, it means the right of the incompetent to own their betters and to use them as productive cattle.”

If nothing else, this explains the antipathy of the Right to human rights; clearly, they’re tantamount to socialism under this view.

We now come to Rand’s theory of Government:

“The only proper purpose of a government is to protect man’s rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence. A proper government is only a policeman, acting as an agent of man’s self-defense, and, as such, may resort to force only against those who start the use of force. The only proper functions of a government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your property and contracts from breach or fraud by others, to settle disputes by rational rules, according to objective law.”

There’s something interesting here, something buried so deep in the psyche and history that Rand, with her paltry knowledge of the subject, quite possibly would never have been able to dig out.

Being in the army is not like other jobs. While mercenaries do exist, throughout human history they have always been in the minority of armed forces, and every state has seen fit to maintain an army of its own. Why should this be? Surely, if this libertarian view of the market is correct, states should regularly be using hired forces in combat, the market for such producing stronger and more effective forces than state-backed armies.

Rand gives us the answer, although she does not know it. I gave her description of her opposing morality in the previous post as ‘A moral system which applauds the surrender of value for no return reaches its apotheosis in the ultimate surrender of values which is death’.

Her morality is based on the notion of trading; hence, the transfer of value for no return is anathema. Her concept of value is tied into living and existence – for her, zero is death. And herein lies the answer to the above: there can be nothing worth receiving in return if your offer includes the possibility of death. One can express this mathematically: any number, any value multiplied by zero is always zero. It will only ever be worth someone’s while to join the army if they are threatened with death or their return is somehow infinite. We can therefore assume that any properly libertarian army will surrender at the first possibility of defeat; any value specified in a contract cannot overcome the zero equation.

There is, however, something that can motivate one to join the army, and that is the unconditional. Only unconditional love can motivate a father to fight to the death for his family; only unconditional love can motivate a man to fight to the death for his nation. It is worth pointing out that the social policies implemented in the aftermath of the Second World War were aimed at ‘winning the peace’; demonstrating to the returning troops that the state they’d fought for was, indeed, worth dying for. This is because they now represented the conditions for the possibility of that state remaining existent; economies tend to be rearranged to serve those responsible for their survival. In this sense, Rand’s version of libertarianism does not reflect America in the 50s so much as a strongly isolationist America that did not require the mobilisation of its population to defend it, in which the industrialists did represent the grounds on which that economy progressed. The general rightward trend in world politics can be seen as representative of the fact that the advent of individualised weapons of mass destruction means that the masses are no longer required to defend the state, indeed, they have become a liability in this regard. If one wished to be really suspicious, one could argue that the Right’s deep and abiding love of Trident has less to do with an uncertain future and more to do with its placing of the defence of the realm in the hands of the elite and not the masses, with the consequent economic effects.

Rand goes on to point out that the economic success of an enterprise is driven not by the workers within but by the mind that designed the machines and identified the goal, thus providing the conditions for the possibility of the enterprise. My use of that Kantian term indicates that I think Rand is partway right here, but she ignores the aggregate judgements made by workers employed by that mind, who add to the value of the enterprise. It is not a single judging mind that makes a company, but many; semi-skilled and unskilled workers use their minds too.

We then have Rand’s indictment of state-funded science as aiming at some non-useful truth and thus employing the mind to identify truths but not functional truths. This is a gross perversion of the mind, apparently. This argument would perhaps have some traction if not for a single word: ‘specialisation’. Blue-sky research may require a lifetime to produce results that are useful in practical terms – to claim that someone is evil because their work does not produce such during their lifetime is just stupid.

Rand then calls on the remaining ‘minds’ in the world to set up their own libertarian communes and await Galt’s arrival, like the vengeful messiah he is. After a repeat of the libertarian oath: “I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine,” the chapter thankfully closes.

Part 28 is here.

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2 Responses to “Atlas Blogged 27iii: Libertopia and unconditional love”

  1. Mark said

    Um… but on that basis, life in general is a zero equation. The value of any work, anything – love included is zero. Which is why we don’t use mathematical calculations to decide what we are going to do.

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