Ayn Rand's Excellent Proposal
The organizer of industry who
thinks he has 'made' himself and his business has found a whole
social system ready to his hand in skilled workers, machinery, a
market, peace and order -- a vast apparatus and a pervasive
atmosphere, the joint creation of millions of men and scores of
generations. Take away the whole social factor, and we have not
Robinson Crusoe with his salvage from the wreck and his acquired
knowledge, but the native savage living on roots, berries and
L. T. Hobhouse
In Ayn Rand’s sprawling novel, Atlas Shrugged, ubermensch
industrialist, John Galt, infuriated over the “theft” of his property by the
parasitic government, calls upon his fellow “captains of industry” – the
“producers of wealth” – to go on strike which, we read, brings down the
entire economy. He then proposes that these elite “producers” leave the
wreckage of the old “collectivist” order behind and establish their own
What a splendid idea! I’m all for it!
So let’s suppose that each and every CEO of the fortune 500 companies
suddenly disappeared, along with Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, Robert
Benmosche of AIG, and all those other bankster executives
who claimed $150 billion in bonuses last year.** (Supplied, by the way,
by us taxpayers). Would the US economy collapse?
Well, maybe not. Is it not just possible that somehow, somewhere, there just
might be a few new worthies quite willing and able to take their places?
Would those vacated suites on Wall Street be filled if the replacements were
offered a tenth of the salaries of the departed? Not the routine hundreds of
millions in salaries and stock options, but rather a miserly ten million?
Oh, the inhumanity!
Perhaps, just perhaps, some of that “redirected” 90% and recovered $150
bonus-billions might be used to bail-out failing Main Street businesses,
restructure foreclosed mortgages, hire workers to repair and renew the
disintegrating physical and human infrastructure – the roads, bridges,
railbeds, utilities, public schools and universities, and courts – without
which no industrial economy can function. Without which, in other words,
those allegedly indispensible “producers” could never have accumulated their
Physical and human infrastructure, let us note, is that governmental “beast”
that a succession of GOP Congresses and Administrations have deliberately
and enthusiastically “starved” – that regressive ideologues such as Grover
Norquist aim to “drown in a bathtub.”
Once those “indispensible” John Galts, without whom our economy would
allegedly collapse, have left us to set up their libertarian paradise, how
might they fare? Ayn Rand would have us believe that, with their aggregate
geniuses and totally egoistic motivations, they would do just fabulously.
Without an educated labor force? Without an established infrastructure?
Without an institutional and resource “commons” (all goods and services
being privatized)? Good luck with that!
And how might this aggregate of total egoists function as a group? I say "as
an aggregate group,” not "as a society” (“there is no such thing as society”
– Margaret Thatcher), and not "as a public” (“there is no such entity as
‘the public’” – Ayn Rand). With no common purposes or shared loyalties apart
from the precept, “you are on your own,” these individuals might find
themselves in a Hobbesian “state of nature,” wherein life is “solitary,
poor, nasty, brutish and short.” – a condition vividly portrayed in William
Golding’s novel, “The Lord of the Flies” and Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of
However, we need not look to fiction to validate Thomas Hobbes’ warning, for
history provides numerous examples of “states of nature.” Consider,
The island was settled in 1790 by six of the Bounty mutineers, eight
Tahitian men, and their women. Almost immediately after the settlers claimed
parcels of land, savage fighting broke out over property and access to the
women. Half of the men were murdered within the first four years. Ten years
later, there was only one male survivor from the original company of
fourteen, one John Adams, in addition to the women and their children.
Historian Will Durant speculates that a loss of community solidarity was
responsible, in part, for the dissolution of the Roman Empire:
"... the mind of Rome, at the close of
the Antonine age [with the death of Marcus Aurelius, 180 AD], sank into
a cultural and spiritual fatigue.. Since the prince had almost all
authority, the citizens left him almost all responsibility. More and
more of them, even in the aristocracy, retired into their families and
their private affairs; citizens became atoms, and society began to fall
to pieces internally..” (Caesar and Christ).
So what if “Atlas Shrugs”? What if those
self-centered “captains of industry” go on strike, disappear, and then
reappear on some remote island?
I suspect that the rest of us will manage somehow to get along without them.
Much better, it seems, than they will get along without us.
PostScript: Those who require (as they should) a careful and extended
argument in support of this brief critique of Ayn Rand and libertarianism,
are invited to read my essays, “Why
Liberals are Not Libertarians,” “With Liberty for
Some,” and Chapters 5-9, 12 and 25 of my book in progress,
“Conscience of a
** Broken link.
Copyright 2010 by Ernest Partridge