Sunday, January 3, 2010

Obama versus Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand once famously said through her character Ellsworth Toohey: “It is always safe to denounce the rich.”(1) In my view, this is true because our culture has a bias against the wealthy individual. This hatred of the rich, in my view, is as evil, vicious and as illegal as racism.

This hatred was implicitly put forward by Barack Obama in 2008.

“We reward people a lot for being rich, for being famous, for being cute, for being thin… one of the values I think we need to instill in our country, in our children, is a sense of ‘usefulness’, in other words, are we useful, are we making other peoples’ lives a little bit better?”(2)

I think this quote reveals more than just how Obama thinks we treat the rich. It reveals a bias both about how he sees the rich and what he sees as moral. He believes that social service is a much more important value than self-interest; that moral living involves sacrifice for others while running a business for profit involves theft and evil acts.

The truth is that, in our economy, we decidedly do not reward people for being rich. Because of progressive taxation and other onerous punishments, people who are good at earning money (by means of making other peoples’ lives a lot better) are effectively tied to a whipping post. We certainly don’t wait for them to be rich and then reward them. In fact, the truth is exactly the opposite, when they become rich, we punish them, denigrate them and make their lives harder.

Is it possible that Obama has never understood the difference between hard work and a life of serving others? Has he spent too much time living off of donations rather than from production? Or has he spent too much time writing grant requests for shady real estate developers rather than developing a solid view of what it means to actually earn a living?

I found another example of this attitude when I listened to Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004.

“…For alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga.

A belief that we are connected as one people. If there’s a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent...that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandmother. If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process...that threatens my civil liberties. It’s that fundamental belief — I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sisters’ keeper — that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. “E pluribus unum.” Out of many, one.”(3)

That Obama called individualism "famous" is the point where the mask drops. For a progressive, individualism is an uncomfortable, dirty idea. It smells of egoism and "can do" rugged selfishness and self-alienation...Obama would feel so uncomfortable around people like that. So he calls it "famous”. Is individualism good? Well, it stands along side another ingredient, the self-sacrifice that “really” makes this country work. You see, you must acknowledge individualism’s "famousness" in order to pander to and fool the yokels into believing that progressives are really just good ole Americans living the American dream. Of course, they understand the value of individualism. E pluribus unum.

Don't be fooled; Obama’s vision of the American dream is at the expense of hard-working Americans. Why should you pay for the reading program of a child on the south side of Chicago when your child has a reading disability - and you have to pay for the remedial program? Why should your employer pay for those prescription drugs when the result is that he lays you off? Don't tell an over-taxed individual that we are connected as one; he will tell you that all this sacrificing is killing him and making him work two or three jobs. Don't tell him that it is the strength of our nation that he works unselfishly when he comes home tired and sore in order not to go on food stamps while Obama builds his stash. When will Obama tell him that he has been "useful" enough and it is time for him to stop sacrificing? When will it finally solve all of our problems? Never?

The truth is that Obama's re-distribution of money is a lie; the money really goes to the "chosen" few; not to the poor, but to those who use the poor as a prop. Obama, as he has now famously made evident, serves those professional parasites who make a living by shaking down businesses and skimming profits from competitors. Don’t expect the honest rich to be included among that “unum”. You have to pay to play.

Progressives like Obama will acknowledge the roots of our nation, sing praises to the power of self-reliance and hard work, call it famous because it is famous to others, not to them. They will, instead, talk more enthusiastically about the freedom to "sacrifice" and the right to "give to others" in a true "bait and switch." Imagine what they would be saying if the ideas of freedom and rugged individualism had never been "famous." I'm sure they'd be talking about the "famous" idea of "to each according to his need, from each according to his ability."

Michelle Obama says:

“[S]omeone is going to have to give up a piece of their pie so that someone else can have more.”

Now after a full year of the Obama administration; a full year where he has brought forward his views of the rich, we can see that the “individualism” brought forward by the Tea Parties is the last thing the progressives want and the one thing they must prevent. So they will use the language of freedom and patriotism as cover so they can cleverly replace that freedom with a morass of social responsibility and the coercive imposition of sacrifice. That they are uncomfortable with the language of freedom shows how radical they have always been. They are unfit to lead because they have no connection to the practical aspects of leadership and the difficulty of running a profitable business. It is easy for an inexperienced person to attack what he/she doesn't understand (just ask your kids). Instead the unwise, unworldly Obamas, who are so intelligent that they don't even know that Marx has been resoundingly refuted, have been given a platform on the world stage, and insist that we accept their vision of what makes our country work: an oligarchic elite that rules a slave labor camp.

The truth is that none of Obama’s tactics, economic policies or even his alleged hope for a better future, can make the American dream possible. Obama creates nothing, produces nothing and can only use the power of government to manipulate business enterprises into doing the very things that will destroy them: pursing social goals rather than profits.

Politicians like Obama believe the Constitution is flawed because it does not contradict its entire purpose by establishing a mechanism for income redistribution. This view makes Obama an entirely new form of technocrat. He believes it is the role of government to fight against selfishness by redistributing income from the “rich” to his buddies. His rationalization is that government action is the hand of the "general will" and that once they, progressive politicians, gain the levers of power, they will fix that “flaw” in the Constitution. The technocracy, in the name of democratic socialism, becomes the fascist state.

Western culture took a wrong turn when the ancient Greeks established democracy. This, including the practice of voting into exile the most prominent men, created a form of tyranny which today we call the tyranny of the majority. In response, the Founding Fathers of our country identified unalienable rights for individuals that the government could not violate. The very concept of a “right” was intended to keep the majority from imposing cruel and tyrannical treatment upon any individual, even if that individual was rich.

The Founders also, undoubtedly knew about the dangerous views of Jean-Jacques Rousseau who fostered a concept called the “General Will.” He proposed that the General Will was an expression of reason in the group. Although he tried to derive the General Will from the “Sovereignty” of the individual in nature, he assumed that the General Will would always be right. The Founders knew better. They realized that, although Rousseau tried to restrict the "General Will" to "mere" principles, his ideas would lead to the tyranny of the majority and to a destruction of man's natural rights. Rousseau's view of the "General Will" is collectivism – and collectivism always leads to sacrifice of the individual. Once collectivism takes hold, the view of the collectivist leader allows no dissent.

The concept of the "General Will" had the effect of establishing self-sacrifice as a moral ideal and paved the way for the very same tyrannical majority rule for which we still criticize the Greeks. It meant that government could violate the rights of individuals if the majority decided to do so. It started our decline from a free constitutional republic where the government was forbidden to violate individual rights onto the slippery slope of ever widening government power, government forced altruism, government programs, progressive taxation and the resulting economic chaos.

Certainly the Founding Fathers, in the Bill of Rights, wanted to prevent a majority from imposing its will upon the individual. This was not a flaw or an over-sight in the Constitution as Obama contends. It was an intentional consideration (strange that a Constitutional scholar educated at Harvard does not know this). And I submit that a civil society would not consider it right for the majority to impose its will on any individual. Further, a proper society would never accept the idea that the “collective good” which cannot even be defined is, by any stretch of the imagination, a proper goal. Indeed, if there is such thing as a collective good, it cannot be achieved by the subjugation, enslavement or taxation of a minority. In a proper society, if a free man does not want to pay taxes, it is his right to dissent and refuse to participate. If the majority voted that he must pay taxes, that act is a violation of his rights, regardless of what Michelle Obama says. You cannot justify it by invoking the “common good” or saying “we won”.

Contrary to Rousseau, there is no dynamic, mystical or practical principle that can validly assert that a group can only do what is right. In fact, history has shown the opposite to be the case. Collectivist societies have been among our most brutal societies and it can be said that only collectivism leads to brutality. Majorities throughout history have done some of the most abominable things.

If a group of people wants to pay taxes and send money to the government, only those individuals who choose to do so should participate. Those who do not are free to do as they please. No argument about the “need” of the group should be more important than the right of an individual to voluntary association and participation.

The government violates individual rights when it forcibly takes money from one citizen and gives it to another. It is an immoral act. Our government was not intended to be one that redistributed income. Further, the proper functions of government do not require a massive bureaucracy and can be financed by means of use charges and voluntary contributions. Even if we had to fight a major war, the finances for the army would mostly be furnished through the voluntary contributions of the people whose rights are being defended.

To make my final point, I’d like to finish the quote in the first paragraph above by Ayn Rand. She put into Ellsworth Toohey’s mouth the following:

“It is always safe to denounce the rich. Everyone will help you, the rich first.”

And this, unfortunately, is also true. Everywhere, the rich express guilt for being rich and many even give their wealth away in huge quantities rather than investing it in thriving businesses. Until the rich become proud of being rich, until they know that they represent “The Fountainhead” of all that is good about man, until they fight against the confiscation of their property, people like Barack Obama will receive Nobel Prizes and total freedom to loot their production. Until they stop voting for and paying for their own enemies, they will be the problem in our society today.

The answer to Barack Obama and his redistributing friends is also provided by Ayn Rand. Francisco says to industrialist Hank Rearden (and to you) in her novel "Atlas Shrugged":

"You, who would not submit to the hardships of nature, but set out to conquer it and placed it in the service of your joy and your comfort—to what have you submitted at the hands of men? You, who know from your work that one bears punishment only for being wrong—what have you been willing to bear and for what reason? All your life, you have heard yourself denounced, not for your faults, but for your greatest virtues. You have been hated, not for your mistakes, but for your achievements. You have been scorned for all those qualities of character which are your highest pride. You have been called selfish for the courage of acting on your own judgment and bearing sole responsibility for your own life. You have been called arrogant for your independent mind. You have been called cruel for your unyielding integrity. You have been called antisocial for the vision that made you venture upon undiscovered roads. You have been called ruthless for the strength and self-discipline of your drive to your purpose. You have been called greedy for the magnificence of your power to create wealth. You, who've expended an inconceivable flow of energy, have been called a parasite. You, who've created abundance where there had been nothing but wastelands and helpless, starving men before you, have been called a robber. You, who've kept them all alive, have been called an exploiter. You, the purest and most moral man among them, have been sneered at as a 'vulgar materialist.' Have you stopped to ask them: by what right?—by what code?—by what standard? No, you have borne it all and kept silent. You bowed to their code and you never upheld your own. You knew what exacting morality was needed to produce a single metal nail, but you let them brand you as immoral. You knew that man needs the strictest code of values to deal with nature, but you thought that you needed no such code to deal with men. You left the deadliest weapon in the hands of your enemies, a weapon you never suspected or understood. Their moral code is their weapon. Ask yourself how deeply and in how many terrible ways you have accepted it. Ask yourself what it is that a code of moral values does to a man's life, and why he can't exist without it, and what happens to him if he accepts the wrong standard, by which the evil is the good. Shall I tell you why you're drawn to me, even though you think you ought to damn me? It's because I'm the first man who has given you what the whole world owes you and what you should have demanded of all men before you dealt with them: a moral sanction."(4)

People like Barack Obama take it for granted that the government has a mandate to establish collectivism. We should identify them for what they are; thieves who use force against individuals. The most moral people in our society are those who produce the products and services that make our lives easier and more comfortable. They save us thousands of hours of labor, increase our ability to enjoy our lives and make us all wealthy in the process. It is time they knew it and stood up for themselves. No one else will do it.

Certainly, Obama hates the rich. If they aren't useful to him, “they just don’t get it.” What is it they don’t get? They don’t get that sacrifice of their profits is Obama's goal. He says we "reward" the rich but he never says they deserve their rewards. He just wants them to be useful and concerned with the whole – which would destroy their ability to provide a better life for their employees and customers.

Obama wants businesspeople to be his draft animals, happy and content that after finishing the back breaking work of being useful to others, they'll receive enough grain to eat…maybe. In Obama’s world, there can never be enough sacrifice. How much can the rich take before they say “enough”?

(1) The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
(2) Barack Obama, campaign speech
(3) Barack Obama, speech to Democratic National Convention, Boston, 2004
(4) Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand


  1. Is it self-centered greed or legitimate self-interest that concerns most about Ayn Rand? Many who admire and criticize Ayn Rand’s beliefs about people standing on their own feet say she promoted selfishness, thereby greed, which is self-centered and anti-individual creativity. That is not Ayn Rand. She admired creative individuals like railroad builder James Jerome Hill, on whom she was reputed to have based her character Nathaniel Taggart in Atlas Shrugged. Independent “I’m OK, you’re OK” people are OK with Rand, not thieves and takers. Howard Roark’s summation to the jury, from Fountainhead, does not show a self-centered individual destroying his work. If greedy he would simply accept his payment. Roark was an other- and outer-centered individual in love with his own dreams and creations, as one would love a spouse, child or family and refuse to allow them to be assaulted. That is the self-interest that built America. Though love for anything more important than self is not inconsistent with Christianity.

  2. Clay, thanks for the comment. I've written elsewhere on "Selfishness and Greed" in my blog. Most people are influenced by the false view that self-interest, or selfishness, is predatory in nature and they can't conceive of a view of morality with life as the standard. I think Obama and those who support him hold the negative view and it moves them to promote some of the most harmful policies. They can't seem to understand that if you destroy profit in the name of morality, you make life and morality impossible.

  3. Clay -- You've posted that exact same comment on other blogs, so I'm just going to reiterate the comment that I made on Tom Palmer's site.

    You've seriously misunderstood Ayn Rand's ideas. Ayn Rand's idea of selfishness is certainly not that of the brute that slaughters others to indulge his own desires -- as Christianity and other forms of altruism claim must be the case. It's where each individual pursues his own life and happiness here on this earth -- not sacrificing others to himself or himself to others -- in accordance with his best rational grasp of the facts.

    That's not compatible with Christianity in the slightest. Christianity extols sacrifice as the moral ideal -- the sacrifice of the morally perfect to the worthless sinners. It denigrates wealth -- or any pursuit of values on this earth -- as evil. It demands faith in an unproven, fantastic, self-contradictory myth -- and threatens an eternity of hell to those who refuse to accept that. Ayn Rand very clearly rejects all of that as evil.

    Or, to put the point another way: Would Jesus have blown up a housing project for the poor to protect his intellectual property, as Howard Roark did? Of course not!

    If you're interested in studying Ayn Rand's ideas further, you might find my still-in-progress collection of podcasts on "Atlas Shrugged" of interest. They're here:

    -- Diana Hsieh. Ph.D, Philosophy