This year is the 50th anniversary of the publication of the book Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. If you have never read it, I recommend it highly. It’s a work of fiction which also doubles as a sort of philosophical treatise and, inspite of that, it’s a great story. The philosophy it espouses is called “objectivism” by Rand, and it’s tenets are, in basic form:
- Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.
- Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses) is man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.
- Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.
- The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. The government acts only as a policeman that protects man’s rights; it uses physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use, such as criminals or foreign invaders. In a system of full capitalism, there should be (but, historically, has not yet been) a complete separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.
I like some the ideas of objectivism, though they are not all compatible with Mormonism (see especially 2 and 3 above). Objectivism is highly rational, in fact it elevates reason as a form of religion, and is therefore quite anti-religion in this sense. To my mind, however, this is because Rand understood all religion to be anti-individual and destructive to self-esteem (which, in many cases, it is). Had she known and understood Mormonism (I don’t know if she ever encountered or contemplated Mormonism), it may be that she would have felt more positively about some religion, as (in my estimation at least) Mormonism disagrees with most other religions on the bases that Rand finds most objectionable.
Regardless, I want to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this great work. It’s truly a remarkable book, and it’s ideas are certainly beneficial, with their focus on personal responsibilty for one’s own presence on this planet. Whether you agree with objectivism or not, knowing and understanding this book is an important part of our cultural literacy.