New Popularity of Ayn Rand

Wednesday, 16 December 2009
Inspired by Ayn Rand and America's new culture war -

Ayn Rand's books Atlas Shrugged & The Fountainhead are some of my favourites.  The stories are intelligent and engaging.  And I'm glad that people are interested in reading them.  But her arguments require the context of fiction, where greed and generosity can be lost or confused.  

When reading Ayn Rand, it is important to observe that she painstakingly redefines selfishness and altruism.  Most of us link selfishness with greed, and altruism with generosity.  But to elucidate her position that selfishness is noble while altruism is depraved, she instead links selfishness with productivity and altruism with laziness and disguised thievery.

To cement this association, it is necessary for her to eliminate in her fiction the normal associations with greed and generosity.  In her books, no altruistic characters wish to give of themselves, they only wish others to give so that they may receive.  And in her books the wealthiest who work for maximum gain never abuse or take advantage of their fellow men through greed.

But outside of her fiction it is harder to disbelieve in generosity or ignore the influence of greed.  Having worked in the non-profit sector, I know that great generosity does exist, especially in the United States.  Our generosity has not impoverished us.  However, the history of many nations, including our own, shows how greed can end prosperity.

I can agree with Rand and the right that government should not regulate so as to steal or force generosity.  But I can not agree that the government should not regulate where needed to hold greed in check.

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