Letters

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Ayn Rand at 100

The most laudatory adjective that Reason is willing to apply to Ayn Rand is "relevant." Relevant?!

No more than 10 percent of Cathy Young's condescending article ("Ayn Rand at 100," March) describes what Rand successfully accomplished in her years as a philosopher and novelist. Instead, readers apparently needed to be told in detail about the oddity of Rand's persona, whom she slept with, the fundamentalist piety of her followers, and her lack of enthusiasm for writing on such subjects as charity, children, and community.

If a libertarian were to reflect on Reason on its 100th birthday, one would not require uniform agreement with all of its articles, or approval of its writers' personal lives, in order to arrive at a complimentary judgment on net. Rand should have been judged in the same manner--and Reason should be humbled by her performance. While the politicians are consulting with the Reasons and the Cato Institutes of the world behind closed doors, these same politicians are spewing more and more populist, egalitarian, Judeo-Christian, altruist philosophy to a marginally conscious public. The public policy battles are not enough. The ultimate fight for freedom can only be held in the arena of philosophy, and there has been one lone woman who has taken the fight on this front and met with unheralded success.

On her 100th birthday, from one of the most prominent of libertarian voices, Ayn Rand deserved to be honored. Where a tribute was in order, you only found it in yourselves to call her "relevant." Shame on you.

Baron Bond
Boca Raton, FL

If Reason is serious about becoming a venue for attacks on Ayn Rand, why not hit her where it hurts? Identify up front the ideas she actually espoused: that man must choose his values and actions by reason; that the individual has a right to exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing self to others nor others to self; and that no one has the right to seek values from others by physical force, or impose ideas on others by physical force.

On these three points and these three points alone is there any real controversy about Ayn Rand's ideas. A competently written rebuttal would at least attempt to show that each of these ideas is wrong, evil, socially dangerous. By instead hiring a hack to sweep together a dustpan load of irrelevant cheap shots, personal attacks, and shopworn smears, Reason makes a convincing case for its own cowardice.

J. Henry Phillips
Austin, TX

Call me a Rand sycophant or zealot, but I think Reason could have done a lot better in honoring Rand's 100th birthday than the article by Cathy Young. Her comments on Atlas Shrugged seem to repeat the long tradition of critics who misstate and trash the concepts so clearly spelled out in the novel.

Take the passage Young found "troubling…in which bureaucratic incompetence and arrogance lead to a terrible train wreck." According to Young, Rand treated political and ideological debates as "wars with no innocent bystanders, and the dehumanization of 'the enemy' reaches levels reminiscent of communist or fascist propaganda."

I suggest that there is much more at work in this passage than attempting to dehumanize or show the guilt of the passengers. It was demonstrating that it was not some sort of retribution for their sins, ideological or political or otherwise, that resulted in the tragedy of their destruction. Were many of the victims of the wreck guilty of errors? Yes, certainly. But it was not a case of someone looking at their lives, judging them wanting, and purposely condemning them for their errors. It was the reality of their epistemological mistakes that put their lives in the hands of the inept bureaucrats.

This, of course, is one of the primary themes of Atlas: that of giving power to evil and incompetence by default by not recognizing, choosing, and rewarding the good.

John Kannarr
Glendale, AZ

I feared that Reason's March cover story would be a fawning piece on Rand by one of her Kool-Aid?drinking toadies. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to see the balance that Cathy Young put into her article.

Still, Ayn Rand is not one of the "most widely influential figures in American thought and culture," as Reason claims. Rather, she's famous like the Edsel or Charlie Manson are famous. And perhaps the best indication of Rand's lack of staying power is that her prize pupil, Alan Greenspan, in his role as chairman of the Federal Reserve, acts in contradiction to her philosophy of Objectivism.

Rand always was irrelevant; her philosophy is alien to human nature. This is why no society on Earth has ever mimicked it. And in fact, even on an individual basis, people who adopt Objectivism tend to crash and burn, as Rand herself embarrassingly did in her affair with Nathaniel Branden.

Peter Skurkiss
Stow, OH

I was disappointed that Cathy Young did not mention the resemblance between Objectivism and Social Darwinism. Because there is no natural brake on the tendency of self-interest to degenerate into an obsessive narcissism, both doctrines, if followed to their logical extremes, would lead humanity into a Hobbesian war of all against all.

We see a hint of what Objectivism has in store for the human race in the clown who, according to the Los Angeles Times, criticized the government for using tax-derived funds to provide relief for the victims of the tsunami that swept over South Asia last December.

That isn't even "Let them eat cake!" An Objectivist society would be a cold, vicious place, very much like our own during the age of the Robber Barons.

Dennis Anthony
Los Angeles, CA

Transportation Security Aggravation

Even (or especially?) among experts, such as Robert W. Poole Jr. and Jim Harper ("Transportation Security Aggravation," March), there seems to be confusion about the 9/11 airline security problems.

The worst was the non-confrontation policy favored by the airlines, seconded by the Federal Aviation Administration, and followed by disarmed passengers and air crews--the root cause of which was the elitist, leave-it-to-the-police attitude that has been fostered in the population for a couple of generations now. The hijackers knew that even if an armed federal agent were aboard, policy would stay his or her hand as long as it was believed to be an ordinary hijacking. (The terrorists went to considerable trouble to reassure the passengers.)

Considering the roadblocks thrown up against arming pilots, it seems the corporate and government bureaucrats have learned--or perhaps care--little. So why does Jim Harper think that an effective "heterogeneous, fully private airline security system" is likely? Or a government-run one either? The bureaucrats know they'll never be held fully accountable.

I do agree that there is a "better result when security is provided by interested parties with a real stake in the outcome." To me, that sounds like passengers and air crews.

William J. Durr
Cornwallville, NY

My Very Own Monorail

Peter Bagge's comic description of Seattle's transit conundrum ("My Very Own Monorail," March) was at once sad, funny, and painfully accurate.

Describing Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) systems as "taxis on monorail tracks" gets to the heart of the matter in a hurry. While overhead, monorail-style, is the preferred route, it's certainly not the only one. Given their light weight and quiet operation, PRT vehicles could pass through apartment buildings, malls, and office buildings.

Also, eminent domain need not apply to PRT projects. Existing road and utility rights of way should suffice for the guideways. Malls, apartment complexes, and office buildings will be attracted to sponsor stations and should therefore pay for them and the connection costs, though I am sure the route choices will be subject to the usual corrupt political system.

Libertarians could be an important part of the development of PRT, which I consider inevitable. It is a solution and a technology whose time has come. It works well in combination with existing transit modes, it is economical, and, perhaps most important, it is desirable. If we who know the pitfalls of public control stay away from this most promising of transit alternatives, we will cede the ground to the statists who wish to use mass transit as a form of punishment for our environmental sins.

Hugh A. Butler
Salt Lake City, UT

John Locke, Original Hipster

Thank you for publishing Nick Gillespie's piece on my book Counterculture Through the Ages ("John Locke, Original Hipster," March). I always felt the book's narration of sometimes admittedly flimsy connections between various cultural epochs and movements that held similar concepts and spirits hinged on the chapter about the Enlightenment, and Gillespie precisely nailed my intentions.

I would, however, like to correct one misapprehension. Gillespie says I have apparent sympathies for eco-terrorists. To my mind, eco-terrorists are the people who burn down housing developments they don't like, or threaten violence against workers at companies that do animal testing, or send mail bombs to mid-level technoserfs and college professors. I hate them. This shouldn't require any explanation.

Gillespie is referring to a segment in the final chapter about the anti-authoritarian branch of the environmentalist movement that, in my opinion, had to be acknowledged as a counterculture within the context of the book. While I have big problems with the neo-Luddite purist tendencies of this movement (and I ridicule them for their purism in the book), I do admire the way the eco-anarchists organize themselves by consensus, without authority or hierarchy.

I also share some views with this "new hip left." Where some readers of Reason may see a free market, I see much more of a corporate oligarchy. Also, I think we may be muddling towards a less coercive, more decentralized future largely because of the collaborative skills and gift economy sensibilities that we are developing online through the open source movement, file sharing, and the like.

Here, market interests use excessive intellectual property rights as defined and enforced by state power and the legal system to maintain stasis while those less concerned with market values produce revolutionary change within a libertarian (nonstatist) context.

While I generally try not to over-identify with any wing in a fast-moving vehicle, I suspect that the libertarian future (if any) leans a bit to the left--toward networked voluntary collaboration on a grand scale.

Ken Goffman (a.k.a. R.U. Sirius)
Mill Valley, CA

The Fever Swamps of Kansas

Thomas Frank's book What's the Matter With Kansas? and Jesse Walker's review of it ("The Fever Swamps of Kansas," March) both miss the essence of this heartland state located in the middle of flyover country.

Frank misses how Democrats have actually won the Kansas governor's mansion 24 of the last 40 years but have not elected a U.S. senator since the 1930s.

For insight into Kansas politics, Michael Barone's latest Almanac of American Politics provides more incisive understanding of Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius in a few pages than Frank does in his entire book. Sebelius has regularly violated her 2002 campaign promise not to raise taxes. Frank's book does not explain how Sebelius got elected, nor will it provide insight into why Sebelius is likely to be rejected next year by Kansas voters.

Frank parrots the conventional political wisdom in Kansas that there are three political factions in the state: Democrats, "moderate" or tax-and-spend Republicans, and out-of-power conservative Republicans. But Sebelius' nominally Democratic administration contains two cabinet members from her "moderate," tax-raising GOP predecessor's cabinet, including former GOP Gov. Mike Hayden. Her lieutenant governor is a former Republican businessman, and her latest hire as the lobbyist for her Department of Revenue is the recently defeated GOP chairman of the Senate tax committee for the last four years.

This is not an unusual situation, since Sebelius' GOP predecessor as governor appointed his Democratic predecessor's budget head to retain that position in his administration. In many ways Kansas is akin to a one-party state.

Automatic property and income tax hikes have helped elected officials avoid politically painful votes for more than a decade, and Kansas now has one of the highest levels of state and local government employment as a percentage of the entire state's workforce in the country. This is the reality that Frank ignored and Walker's review touched on only indirectly.

Karl Peterjohn
Executive Director, Kansas Taxpayers Network
Wichita, KS

Correction: "Thomas Szasz Takes on His Critics" (May) implied that Rodney Yoder was still being held in an Illinois mental hospital. In fact, he is now a free man: In 2003 he was transferred to the Randolph County Jail, where he was held on charges stemming from an altercation with another inmate. In January 2005 he was released on bail, and in March the charges were dropped.