By William R Thomas
This essay explores the political theory of Ayn Rand, a topic that catapulted to the national stage during the last presidential election following the nomination of Rep. Paul Ryan (a self-described enthusiast of Rand's ideas and novels) to the Romney ticket. Ayn Rand's ideas continue to generate public debate in political and cultural circles, but those ideas are frequently misunderstood and misrepresented. This book provides a succinct summary of key aspects of her thought, enabling you to intelligently discuss Rand's ideas with others. It is written by a proponent of Objectivism, the philosophy that Rand founded.
Critiques of Ayn Rand that denounce her for a cold materialism are simply off-point, the author argues. "Rand looked out on the world and saw endless vistas of possibility for human beings. Hers was not the despairing, post-religious nihilism that characterized so many twentieth-century philosophers. Rand’s works endow the essential activities of modern human life, including productive work, the use of human reason, and exchange through the marketplace, with the spiritual stature of moral greatness. That her works have this inspirational value is clearly evident in their enduring popularity. Rand projected a sense of nobility appropriate to modern scientific and industrial civilization, embracing business life and technology with a wholehearted appreciation of their potential. This is one basic aspect of the vision she projected in her novels, and it is this exalted view of industry, individualism, and the free market that had the strongest effect on American culture of all her ideas.
But Ayn Rand was also distinctive for giving her readers a sense of coming at social and political problems with a clean slate. She was a 'radical for capitalism' not only in her indifference to public opinion and her willingness to champion ideas that the mainstream widely abhorred, but in her method of analysis. As the philosopher Lester Hunt has noted: 'the cardinal value of all [Rand’s] work… [is] her ‘radicalism' … in the very literal sense of a tendency to approach an issue in terms of its root (radix) in the issues that underlie it.” She stands out among classical liberals for the clarity with which she declared her political ideal and her indifference to tradition, and especially in her ruthless quest for the fundamental issues embedded in any question. Rand set down standards and definitions: freedom as freedom from force; rights as principles sanctioning that freedom; and rights as unified by a right to life and expressed in an objective code of law. These ideas shaped the terms in which a new movement of free-market advocates would debate political theory. When Rand spoke of liberty, her wide following knew exactly what she was arguing for. Her legacy has been to point classical liberalism in a fresh direction, inspiring two generations of free-market thinkers and offering a distinctive and thoroughly integrated moral defense of the political order that laissez-faire requires."