Yaron Brook is the executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute, a columnist for Forbes.com, and co-author of the new book How Ayn Rand’s Ideas Can End Big Government (Palgrave Macmillan). The child of Israeli socialists, Brook discovered Objectivism by reading Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged when he was 16. In July, Editor in Chief Matt Welch sat down with Brook to talk about capitalism, America, and Randian individualism. Watch the full interview at reason.com.
Q: How can Ayn Rand’s ideas end big government?
A: This is an ideological battle. It’s fundamentally about ideas. What we try to show in the book is that it’s not the traditional ideas that are going to win this battle. Big government grows no matter if you have Democrats, no matter if you have Republicans. What is needed is a fundamental intellectual revolution, and Ayn Rand identified—we identified—the core ideas that need to be challenged are actually moral, ethical ideas. Economics?
Yeah, we need a challenge to Keynesian economics and all that. But we’ve got plenty of economists. They’ve done that. Politically? Yeah, there’s a political battle to be fought. But we can’t win the economic battle, we can’t win the political battle, unless we win hearts and minds.
Q: Are you talking about a moral defense of capitalism? Or a moral defense of smaller government?
A: Individualism is a necessary condition for capitalism, and a necessary condition for limited government. You will never get real capitalism without a proper moral defense of individualism. So this is all about individualism. And the challenge we face in the world around us is that the traditional morality we all grow up with—that we are all taught, that is preached by everyone in the culture, left, right, and center—is a morality that I believe is incompatible with individualism and incompatible with limited government and capitalism. It’s a morality of “you are your brother’s keeper.” It’s a morality of “your moral responsibility in life is to others.” Therefore, in a deep sense, your life is not yours to live. We need to demolish that idea. We need to destroy that idea and replace it with Rand’s view that your life is yours to live as you see fit, morally yours to live. And you have no moral obligations towards others, other than not to violate their rights, and to treat them with justice.
Q: Some of libertarianism’s most potent cultural critics will argue that we have more individualism in this country than ever before. Thanks to the Internet, and thanks to a lot of other things, we’re all too individualistic, we’re too atomized as a society, and what we need to do is find a way to come together. Is there any truth to that analysis?
A: There’s a certain element of truth there. It is true that because we’re wealthier, we have more choices. Money does, in a sense, buy happiness, because it does buy choices. If you think for a second about a subsistence farmer, there’s not a lot of happiness to pursue there. All you do is work, and you barely survive. So we do need wealth in order to pursue happiness, and we have created wealth because of freedom. Because of the way this country was created, we have created a store of wealth. And it’s possible for us to have many more choices in our society than we had 250 years ago. At the same time, we’ve also constrained our freedoms dramatically. It’s very difficult to start a business in the United States today, suddenly a lot more difficult than it was 100 years ago. That’s a choice that is gone.