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The Clash of Political Ideologies

By       Message Harold Novikoff     Permalink
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(Counter-Arguments to Ayn Rand's Essay: "The Only Path To Tomorrow") by Harold Novikoff

The intense on-going debate concerning equality in wealth and social status in society (about the 1%, etc.) is an outgrowth of historical social stratification, originating in ancient times. Through centuries of kings and feudalism there was a privileged class of aristocracy typically endowed with inherited grants of land and wealth. In today's world, the role of the aristocracy has been largely replaced by a hierarchy of wealthy businessmen, landowners, and politicians, followed by scientists, technocrats, intellectuals and celebrities. The concept of "Noblesse Oblige", which in theory only guided the ruling class, has, under pressures of the complex, competitive modern world, mutated largely into a struggle for individual success, influence, recognition, dominance and wealth.

The writings of Ayn Rand emphasize the importance of the creative or free-thinking individual as being superior to any governing authority, which otherwise would constitute a form of tyranny. Her philosophy may inspire and justify the actions of many influential people who see themselves as the exceptional individual or as a member of a clique or class entitled to special privileges and not constrained by the rules set down for the common people. It is reported that Paul Ryan's staff is asked to read Ayn Rand. I don't know if Donald Trump has heard of Ayn Rand, but he falls into that class. Although her writings were originally arguments against "collective tyrannies" restricting the superior-type of individual, they can readily be interpreted as a defense of the laissez-faire capitalist system.

According to Wikipedia, Rand's philosophy has been put down explicitly in one essay, "The Only Path To Tomorrow". In the following section, I have excerpted the key statements (in bold type) and given a counter-argument to each, based solely on my personal perspective.

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"The greatest threat to mankind is totalitarian philosophy."

The greatest threat to mankind today is environmental degradation resulting in disastrous changes affecting all mankind to the point of possible breakdown of societies and, conceivably, the extinction of life as we know it. Under these circumstances, as would happen in wartime, it is imperative that a supreme central authority be established to mandate and coordinate necessary actions throughout the world, based upon the best scientific evidence, in order to reverse environmental deterioration, if possible. All subjects would be told what they must contribute to this effort, rather than asked what they are willing to do.

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"Totalitarianism is collectivism. It holds that a man must be chained to collective action for the common good."

Any society demands a certain degree of 'collectivism' to function effectively. That is why we have laws. The Individual can be nurtured by protections and support provided by the common (collective) good. Collectivism in the form of co-operative actions is not totalitarianism. All national societies, including democratically constituted, are a composite of collectivism (socialism) as well as individualism. In times of extreme national emergency, the citizens' primary responsibility is to the collective good, when individual freedoms must be restricted, as in war-time - a form of totalitarianism. The military, which we have not learned to do without, is absolute tyranny.

"No tyrant rose to power except on claim of representing the common good. Horrors are perpetrated by altruists for the common good."

History may provide different scenarios for tyrants rising to power, mostly by military conquest. The truth of Rand's claim may rest on the definition of an altruist. Lenin may have thought the Russian Revolution was for the common good, but if it necessitated the sacrifice of millions, it was not, nor was he an altruist. A true altruist is defined as a compassionate humanitarian. In historical times, and in backward, illiterate societies today, an enlightened benevolent dictatorship, like Socrates' philosopher-king, may be more altruistic and appropriate for the common good instead of a dysfunctional "liberal" democracy.

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"Men have been enslaved by the collectivist doctrine that the supremacy of the state represents the common good. No dictator could arise if men cannot be deprived of inalienable rights."

Historically, all regimes - including democracies to some degree - are typified by the supremacy of the state, whether or not for the common good. The individual must determine his own "supremacy" - his uniqueness, his self-image, his value to himself, his family and the world at large according to his capabilities, experiences. and priorities. Ideally, he would retain the primacy of his own individuality rather than sacrificing it to the image dictated by a "collective" authority, whether a political, religious or other cult. But as a socially mature person, he would consent to restrictions of a rational society.

The truth of Rand's second statement depends upon the definition and interpretation of 'inalienable rights'. An individual in society - unless he is a recluse - is inevitably subject to restrictions that may compromise presumed inalienable rights and constitute in his mind a form of tyranny: the tyranny of poverty, for example. Gun ownership is a questionable 'inalienable right', despite words to that effect in the Constitution. The "inalienable right" of one person may compromise that of another. Inalienable rights of the highest order such as the right to life, food, shelter, health, and freedom from persecution and enslavement are commonly - universally - not respected.

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WWII vet retired from several occupations (school teacher, technical writer, energy conservation business, etc.) long-time Sierra Club member



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