Viewpoint: Justice Into lnjustice?
In a recent question/answer session Ayn Rand said this of the Libertarian Party:
…here is a Party which plagiarizes some of my ideas, mixes it with the exact opposite, with religionists, with anarchists, with just about every intellectual mystic and scoundrel they can find, and they call themselves libertarian and run for office.…I would say the worst of [any of the candidates in the major parties] are giants compared to anyone who would attempt anything so unphilosophical, so low and so pragmatic as this Libertarian Party.…
She went on and put forth the following about Alexander Solzhenitsyn:
…lower than Kissinger, lower than the rulers of Russia, stands Mr. Solzhenitsyn. He is the worst public caricature of a monster that has emerged in this age, which has an awful lot of public caricatures and of unappetizing characters.…Solzhenitsyn, before you speak of him, or ask anything about him, please read the letter which he sent to the Soviet authorities shortly before he was deported. In it, that man claims, in effect, that he is a communist. He says so openly, only not in those words. He is against Marxism, he would like Russia to remain a dictatorship, but a dictatorship run by the Russian Orthodox Church.…In other words, he wants to take Russia back to the stage before Peter the Great.…He is anti-industrial.…
To start with, Ayn Rand has no basis for charging the LP with plagiarism. Plagiarism would only exist if the LP had (a) pretended that its members and leaders have learned nothing from Ayn Rand, and (b) given voice to her distinctive arguments for the truth of the political ideas expressed in its platform. But neither took place.
Libertarian Party members and leaders are well known to be indebted, at least in some part, to Ayn Rand's contribution to political theory. Obviously, however, party platforms are not scholarly papers in which footnotes are provided to refer readers to sources of the ideas being utilized. Anyone should realize this and no implication of pretense exists in the absence of such notes, especially when other publications are available in which those notes appear and which are clearly linked to the LP's position. Giving Ayn Rand credit—thus avoiding the alleged plagiarism—would be seriously misleading. The LP's stance only partly reflects Objectivist political theory. To the extent it does, the LP could have gained these ideas from other sources, since Ayn Rand is clearly not original in the conclusion of her political theory, and she is only partly original in the arguments she advances in its support. Finally—though this would be no excuse for plagiarism—Miss Rand gives no credit to others for her ideas, outside, of course, of some very general references to Aristotle. Yet studies of the history of ideas will show that many of her ideas and arguments are present in the works of such thinkers as Spinoza, Reid, Hume, Kant(!), and, more recently, Leo Strauss, to name but a few. Even where Rand makes reference to having benefitted from the ideas of others—e.g., Isabel Paterson, Ludwig von Mises—it is never clear just which of her views she considers unoriginal with her. (For a clear case of Rand's lack of originality, see Locke's treatment of national emergencies for ideas Rand explores in her essay "The Ethics of Emergencies," especially as they apply to the executive branch of government.)
On Solzhenitsyn Rand's comments are a mixture of truth and distortion. He is clearly no communist! True, Solzhenitsyn shows incredible naivete concerning economics and the problem of economic stability and growth. (He flatly endorses the stance of the Club of Rome!) But does he really wish the Russian Orthodox Church to become dictator of Russia? Solzhenitsyn says "I myself see Christianity today as the only living spiritual force capable of undertaking the spiritual healing of Russia. But I request and propose no special privileges for it, simply that it should be treated fairly and not suppressed." (Letter to the Soviet Leaders, p. 57) He asks that all views, including Marxism, be permitted to enjoy the same liberty and that all be rid only of state support!
The Letter was written while Solzhenitsyn was still in the Soviet Union and is explicitly strategical: it aims to appeal to the Soviet leaders' "realism," i.e., it is directed to influence the Party leaders so that they might take some of the steps one might consider proper for a leadership of that sort to take but can only expect it to take slowly if at all. If an Alan Greenspan should join an immoral outfit such as the President's Council of Economic Advisors because a bit of his contribution might stem statism in the U.S., without justifying the conclusion that Greenspan is now a full blown statist, surely it is understandable that Solzhenitsyn should suggest policies to the Soviet leaders that would otherwise be intolerable. (Do read the Letter, dear reader, and see for yourself!)
My points above give no support to the LP or to Solzhenitsyn. The former's platform is muddied and often sloganistic. Some of its members already demonstrate the danger of modern politics, namely its promotion of haggling, powerhunger, as well as useless fanfare. But none of that makes the LP a necessarily bad instrument for promoting liberty, especially to those who are limited in time and resources and haven't the talent to write Atlas Shrugged. In her disdain for the LP's membership Miss Rand is reverting to an attitude of mind found not in The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged, nor in her nonfiction essays, but in the now excised passages of We The Living (where political elitism received too eager endorsement). Contrary to the implications of those passages, others than the most brilliant, virtuous, and ambitious among us possess individual rights, too. They not only have the right but the responsibility to make those advances toward the achievement of a free society that they are capable of making, which means that the Libertarian Party, however immature and confused, can serve a proper function in our lives.
Solzhenitsyn is not my idol. He is a man who suffered as a Soviet slave and lived to tell of it eloquently. For this some praise is due. He has also given some warning to the West of what happens when liberty is neglected. However objectionable his views are in other areas, however influential these may become because American conservatives like William F. Buckley capitalize on them for shabby purposes, it serves no just purpose to denounce the man as a monster.
As many know, I am very impatient with sloppy, small-minded criticism of Ayn Rand's ideas, especially the kind that dismisses Objectivism on grounds such as Rand's opposition to a woman president—which is comparable to dismissing Aristotle for his belief in an unmoved mover, von Mises for his support of the draft, or Murray N. Rothbard for his utopian foreign policy analysis.
True enough, Rand has been shoved aside by some real losers in our era—e.g., Whittaker Chambers, a self-confessed ex-communist namby pamby; Russell Kirk, a self-professed "student of ghosts" and an insufferable moral relativist; as well as such bright shamtroversialists as Garry Wills and the intellectual fly-by-night William Buckley himself. Not to mention the libertarian pipsqueaks who fume that Ayn Rand isn't Murray Rothbard!
Despite the danger of joining such bad company—and I have already been notified that this is just the line of thought some will take when my column appears—it is important that Rand's injustice and bad judgment be identified. Coming from a source that has helped to identify the nature of justice and of sound judgment, these pronouncements Miss Rand makes could gain respect or a very bad name for everything she has done. It must be kept in mind that what Rand said about the LP and Solzhenitsyn is not vintage Rand! Perhaps her obscure and unjust views I have discussed would have lain low except for the present discussion. Still, as a student of the brilliant novelist/philosopher, I must protest this performance.
I only hope that her conduct will not deter newcomers from studying her works and taking full joy in her superb artistry.
Tibor Machan's Viewpoint appears in this column every third month, alternating with those of Murray N. Rothbard and David Brudnoy.