There is a psychologically revealing parallel to this fear
among religious people who oppose gay marriage and believe that those who
support it are undermining both the sanctity of marriage and the integrity of
the American family. The right of such
people to uphold and pursue traditional heterosexual
marriage and the family life that derives from it remains, of course, entirely
open to them. Yet, their own belief system,
and the sense of self-identity connected with it, are apparently so fragile that
they insist that society as a whole
affirm their beliefs as an exclusive norm.
What this implies, for me, is a total absence of connection to others at
a deeper human level that can
override culturally-based differences in life-style.
Perhaps, in an analogous way, Rand's "producers" might
believe that the unsuccessful "non-producers" in society represent a challenge
to their own sense of earned privilege.
The "losers" create an uncomfortable sense of guilt in the "winners,"
who, in many cases, must suspect that their own success is both over-valued and
over-rewarded. Often, products and
services that have not been developed to meet real human needs (though John
Galt's "World Motor" apparently has) nevertheless achieve commercial success
through a venal appeal to vanity that has been thoroughly vetted by marketing
experts. In such cases, it would not be
surprising if the producers, aware that they have not earned their success by adding a new source of value in the world, should seek affirmation of their worth by
denigrating society's unsuccessful "others." This might well be the reason why
John Galt in his speech demonizes the non-producers as "parasites" who seek
unearned benefits through programs that are funded in part by taxes gleaned
from the bounty of the producers' own vision and labor.
As still another clue to Rand's lack of empathy, the Galt
speech suggests no disposition at all to factor into the success of society's
vaunted "producers" the necessary role played by ordinary workers in creating
the conditions that make building a business possible. This was of course a point made by no other
than President Obama in a campaign speech, which was subsequently skewered both
by the Republican presidential campaign and, at its nominating convention, by
the flaunting of the banner "We Built It."
Nevertheless, the truth of Obama's point is self-evident. You don't have to be a "progressive" to
recognize that, while businesses are formed and led by risk-taking
entrepreneurs, and are both necessary to society and deserving of reward, they
take root within a pre-existing infrastructure created by other people. To be successful, businesses also require a
workforce that, in spite of its departmentalized roles, aspires to more than a
personal paycheck and contributes creatively to the company's growth. No business can be successful without
employees that take pride in their work, are dedicated to making the best
product possible, and are themselves invested in their employer's
Among a spectrum of contrasting views, the "progressive"
perspective differs most fundamentally from that of Ayn Rand in the belief that
all human individuals are endowed from birth with an instinct to bring to
material fruition a unique set of talents and capacity for insight that are
often identified as "God-given potential."
In most cases, those who succeed in realizing this potential do not also
achieve stature or wealth -- which, in any case, are inconsequential compared
to the human fulfillment obtained. They
recognize in that fulfillment, however, that they have been driven by a power
that is instinctual within themselves, and so must also be present in
Because this creative power is divorced from the ego and
universal, it does not kindle a sense of "competition" with others, at least
none that is directed toward the harsh outcomes of winning and losing. Instead, it evokes an emotion opposite to
competitiveness. This is again empathy, the instinct already discussed
as the impulse to help meet the needs of other people. Here, that same impulse has the narrower
focus of helping others fulfill their own need to give meaningful expression to
their inborn creative potential. This
empathetic aspiration serves a purpose that is much broader than Ayn Rand's
concept of a "selfish" pursuit of material self-interest, based on the rational
judgments of the ego-based mind. It may
not yield the grand outcomes achieved by her calculating and driven
"producers." Yet, those who succeed, and
help others succeed, in applying their inborn talents to create new value in
the world are, regardless of the station or wealth they achieve, humanity's genuine
Of course, in this imperfect world, there will be many who pursue, but fail to reach, the goal of making their unique potential real in the world. Yet, like those whose talents have made a mark, they too are "winners" in a fundamental human sense: they have continued to follow the call of their creative gifts and to support the right of others to do the same. In any work or circumstance, such people are conditioned to maintain their self-respect, stay self-reliant, and resist conforming to the demands of others who would use them to meet selfish ends. Such individuals could never become the degraded "parasites" Rand depicts in her story of the collapse of the Twentieth Century Motor Company. Those unfortunates are the manipulated victims of an elite few who, though capable of great technical and management skills, and the production of revolutionary new products, lack the capacity for empathy that can redeem the value of every human life.
A Final Note: the Progressive Difference in a Nutshell.
Ayn Rand's defense of total economic freedom has its roots in a few fundamental concepts discussed throughout this "progressive" critique. She believes, first, that individuals realize their life potential through their own mind and its powers of reason, which are rooted in objective sense perception. Given the governing role of the mind in the life of the individual, it must be entirely free of the distorting influences of guilt and altruism in order to guide the individual to decisions and actions that are genuinely in his or her own self-interest. If the mind is free, it leads individuals to the creation of things that add value to the world, give their own life meaning, ensure material well-being, help advance human possibilities, and result in the personal happiness that derives from earned self-esteem. Conversely, any repression or distortion of the mind's integrity destroys its life-building function and results effectively in moral death. That is why the forces of government and religion are so dangerous to the "producers" of the world. They not only distort the functioning of the free market and corrupt the workforce, but demoralize the "producers" themselves and keep them from leading their company to a full realization of its promise,
Rand's insistence on the freedom of the individual to make the most of himself (or herself) in the world is surely the most attractive feature of her thinking, and one for which many "progressives," including myself, will have a spontaneous sympathy. Still, progressives insist that a complete expression of human possibility cannot be restricted to the rational pursuit of self-interest, but must include a more expansive impulse to help meet the needs of other people. This broader conception is made possible, at bottom, by an instinct deeper than ego-based reason, which expresses itself in intuitive insight, empathy, human community, and creativity inspired not by material self-interest but universal values. Combined with the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness enshrined in America's Declaration of Independence -- and often invoked by Rand herself -- , these qualities are essential to building a society where everyone, not only members of a privileged elite, can be a "producer." These producers, however, will have a purpose governed by more than material self-interest. They will seek to adapt their creativity, processes, and products to the broader objective of adding value to the world that not only satisfies the needs of customers, but meets the interests of the common good.
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