By Steve Baker, MP for Wycombe.
I don't much like Ayn Rand's writing or her philosophy, Objectivism. I didn't much enjoy Atlas Shrugged. I certainly do not like the attitude to other people which her followers so often display. And yet, there is value in her work. For example:
The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.
Then you will see the rise of the men of the double standard- the men who live by force, yet count on those who live by trade to create the value of their looted money- the men who are the hitchhikers of virtue. In a moral society, these are the criminals, and the statutes are written to protect you against them. But when a society establishes criminals-by-right and looters-by-law- men who use force to seize the wealth of disarmed victims- then money becomes its creators’ avenger. Such looters believe it safe to rob defenseless men, once they’ve passed a law to disarm them. But their loot becomes the magnet for other looters, who get it from them as they got it. Then the race goes, not to the ablest at production, but to those most ruthless at brutality. When force is the standard, the murderer wins over the pickpocket. And then that society vanishes, in a spread of ruins and slaughter.
As an articulation of what goes wrong when the attempt is made to coordinate society by force, what misery is created when people are taught to live in ceaseless guilt, how hopeless is our situation if we surrender reason, it is a masterpiece. As an articulation of the timeless morals which have sustained human society, it leaves something to be desired: magnanimity.
Ironically, Aristotle, who made magnanimity “the crowning virtue”, was the only philosopher to whom Rand would acknowledge a philosophical debt: it appears she missed that in his writing.
However, if one considers the book and the philosophy as a resentful rejection of the “progressive” philosophy which destroys society — faith in the omnipotence of the State — it makes sense. Consider this from John Galt’s speech:
Yes, this is an age of moral crisis. Yes, you are bearing punishment for your evil. But it is not man who is now on trial and it is not human nature that will take the blame. It is your moral code that’s through, this time. Your moral code has reached its climax, the blind alley at the end of its course. And if you wish to go on living, what you now need is not to return to morality — you who have never known any — but to discover it.
We cannot go on resenting private profit as we cannot go on fearing to live. Social progress will come when people have more to do with one another and governments less; the necessary system of independence, interdependence and mutual cooperation to create this big society is the free market.
And therein lies the ironic failure of Ayn Rand's work, or at least, the irony of the typical attacks upon it. To act with rational self interest in a free market is to create value for other people: to choose to serve the needs of others.
With all that in mind, I am glad that Atlas Shrugged is to become a movie. Here's the trailer:
But what does this say to Conservatives, to those of us who believe in freedom, responsibility, enterprise, the family, justice, equality before the law – not after it – and that there is such a thing as society but that it is not the same as the State? It says that we are the good guys.
We ought to remember that.
The movie is released on 15 April.