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 Ethics: Self Interest
Ayn Rand's Contribution to the Cause of Freedom
Ludwig von Mises Institute, Austria Wednesday, February 2, 2005

The most controversial aspect of Rand's philosophyher rejection of altruism and her embrace of ethical egoisms also one of the most misunderstood. For Rand, the Aristotelian recognition of properly understood human interests as rationally harmonious was the essential foundation for a free society. It's a mistake, though, to think that the validation of Rand's legacy depends on academic approval. Human progress is often driven by people either outside or on the margins of the academic establishment, writes Roderick T Long for the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Today marks the centenary of Ayn Rand's birth. Born Alisa Rosenbaum in St. Petersburg, Russia, on February 2nd, 1905, Rand would go on to become one of the 20th century's foremost voices for human freedom.



Rand always stressed the importance of placing political arguments in a wider philosophical context, insisting that she was "not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism," and "not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason."


Rand's influence on the libertarian movement is incalculable; despite her own frequent antipathy toward that movement and even toward the word "libertarian," Rand played a crucial role in helping both to create new advocates of laissez-faire and to radicalize existing ones; Rand encouraged libertarians to view their standpoint as an alternative to, rather than a branch of, conservatism, and to base the case for liberty on moral principle and not on pragmatic economic benefits alone. Rand's influence on popular culture is likewise enormous; an oft-cited Library of Congress survey of "most influential books" placed Atlas Shrugged second only to the Bible.


Rand owed much of her success to the power and directness of her writing style. She was a master at what one of my colleagues calls reductio ad claritatem, "reduction to clarity"— i.e., the method of refuting a position by stating it clearly—as when she wrote that "if some men are entitled by right to the products of the work of others, it means that those others are deprived of rights and condemned to slave labour," or when she summarized the view that human perception is unreliable because limited by the nature of our sensory organs as: "man is blind, because he has eyes—deaf, because he has ears."


Upon the publication of Atlas Shrugged, Mises wrote to Rand praising both her "masterful construction of the plot" and her "cogent analysis of the evils that plague our society"; in another context he called her "the most courageous man in America." Rand in turn enthusiastically promoted Mises's writings in her periodicals, and declared that her ideal curriculum would be "Aristotle in philosophy, von Mises in economics, Montessori in education, Hugo in literature." Rand's biographer Barbara Branden notes that beginning in the late fifties and continuing for more than ten years, Ayn began a concerted campaign to have [Mises's ] work read and appreciated: she published reviews, she cited him in articles and in public speeches [and] recommended him to admirers of her philosophy. A number of economists have said that it was largely as a result of Ayn's efforts that the work of Von Mises began to reach its potential audience. (The Passion of Ayn Rand, p. 188.)


A brief intellectual association with Mises's student Murray Rothbard was less successful, beginning in mutual appreciation but dissolving over ideological and personal differences—though Rand and Rothbard would nonetheless share the honour of being drummed out of the "respectable" Right by a statist-minded conservative establishment. (The forthcoming Spring 2005 issue of the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies is devoted to an exploration of the connections between Rand and the Austrian School, and includes contributions from a number of contemporary Austrians.)


Because Rand called big business a "persecuted minority" and dismissed the military-industrial complex as "a myth or worse," she is often taken as a naïve apologist for the corporatist elite; but she also condemned the "type of businessmen who sought special advantages by government action" as the "actual war profiteers of all mixed economies"; and it's easy to forget that most of the businessmen cha

This article was published in the Ludwig von Mises Institute on Wednesday, February 2, 2005. Please read the original article here.
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