Posts Tagged Ayn Rand
Rev. Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, recently released a new book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy, in which he aims to overturn common stereotypes of capitalism and dig into the real moral implications of free enterprise. Applying his usual wit and theological depth, Fr. Sirico delivers fundamental moral arguments for why capitalism does not , as the narrative goes, promote greed, selfishness, and cruelty, but instead leverages human creativity and generosity. More importantly, Fr. Sirico contemplates how we might use our economic systems to further realize our relationship with God and man.
In this interview with Remnant Culture, Fr. Sirico discusses some of the key topics of his book, including consumerism, Ayn Rand, equality, health care, and the common “caricature” of economic man.
Of course, I encourage you to read the book in full.
One of the most popular arguments Christians make against free enterprise is that it is based on or driven by consumerism. In your book, you argue that consumerism actually makes capitalism “impossible over the long term.” How so?
Of course, we all consume. That is a fact of life. The Christian concern is not with the fact that we have to consume things (as thought we were Gnostics who did not believe in the goodness of the created world), but that we not be consumed by things.
The capitalist cycle depends on people using whatever goods they have to produce something valuable for their neighbors, and making a profit in the process. People then reinvest their profit into expanding their business, and making more profit. It’s a virtuous cycle. If an individual immediately rushes out and spends every last cent he earns today, he would have nothing left over for reinvesting and expanding for tomorrow, and thus there would be no means for sustaining his business, not to mention obtaining daily necessities such as food, shelter, and clothing.
In writing about your “undoing” as a leftist, you describe a moment when you realized that the questions you were asking about Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman were similar to “the simple queries that the tall nun had posed to our First Holy Communion Class” — questions about who made the world, who God is, and why God made us. Why did studying economics inspire a return to these questions, and why are such questions important for us to consider when contemplating economics?
There is something “underneath” economics. Economics is not really about money and charts and statistics. It is essentially about human interaction. At the center of each economic transaction stands the human person. When we talk about tax levels or private property or inflation, we are talking about realities that have profound effects on the ways people live their lives, and the ways they interact with each other. When you see that economic conditions influence the decisions people make and alter their lifestyles, you realize that people react negatively to things they view as violating their intrinsic dignity. High tax levels can be immoral not only because of the negative effects they have, but simply because it is immoral to take an inordinate amount of what someone has worked hard to earn. Pope John Paul II has made clear that unemployment is a grave wrong because it jeopardizes the lives of workers and their families.
Studying these economic realities forces you to go back to those basic questions: Who is man? How much may a government justly take from its citizens? What are the limits of government? What are its responsibilities? Much more than numbers are at stake here: intrinsic human dignity, flourishing and rights hang in the balance.
Advocates of free enterprise are often assumed to be robotic devotees of Ayn Rand, the atheist novelist and promoter of a so-called “virtue of selfishness.” Yet you argue that Rand’s beliefs stand in conflict with the very free enterprise system she claimed to support. Where are Christians to find themselves between Randian individualism and Marxist collectivism?
Rand’s theory is self-defeating because it denies the fact that the free market is based on Read the rest of this entry »
The topics of self-interest and sacrifice are commonly discussed on this blog—my own view being that any form of either is bound to lead to selfishness unless both are aligned to God’s will (through good, old-fashioned obedience).
I’m currently reading Love & Economics: It Takes a Family to Raise a Village, in which author and economist Jennifer Roback Morse takes a unique approach to the subject, arguing that our views of “rational” man have been severely lacking on both sides (if your ideological buckets are that neat and tidy, that is).
Without incorporating love into our usual assumptions about the self and the other, argues Morse, we will structure a philosophy of life around a fantasy and be doomed to a mechanistic, regressive society.
First, the not unique part—i.e. a summary of the context:
The decentralized market economy is probably the most celebrated self-regulating social institution. Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” insight shows that people pursuing their own self-interest can actually end up furthering the public interest through no intention of their own. Since Smith’s time, free market economists have developed the Invisible Hand concept further through a construct called homo economicus, or economic man. Economic man is a rational person who calculates the costs and benefits of each potential action and chooses the action that brings him the most happiness.
The obvious problem is that we are not, and can never be, fully rational, no matter how much Ayn Rand wishes it were so (though we can certainly be more rational than we are).
On the other side is a similar problem, one which, though more obvious, is plagued by increasingly abundant misunderstanding: other people have an even smaller chance of being “fully rational” on our behalves.
The lofty bureaucrat on top of the hill may think he has a better idea than we do about the appropriate price of an orange (or a cup of coffee), but our personal preferences would likely differ if Grocer Bob had the chance to experiment. Of course, the implications lead to deeper struggles than the prices of oranges and coffee, which is why more fundamental, philosophical variations on Rousseau’s “natural goodness of man” have long served as platforms upon which many a tyrant has constructed his moralistic authoritarian palaces.
Yet even critiques of centralized approaches to knowledge and decisionmaking—Hayek’s, most notably—seem to only get us back to square one: that individual choice would be better (and it would!).
Yes, our knowledge is limited, and yes, our definitions of the “good” will not naturally conform. These are crucial realities to confront, but do they mean that Read the rest of this entry »
Below are our most-read posts of 2011. Thank you all for your readership and support over the past year. I am truly blessed to have such a dedicated and engaging audience.
Happy New Year!
Alas, I doubt we will ever hear such questions, because it is the Christian beliefs that do not deserve merit or respect in the public square. It is the Christian beliefs that arouse skepticism for their opposition to the secularist’s religious devotion to “serious science.” It is the Christian beliefs that are actually “beliefs.” The rest is simply the facts.
Thus, in the coming election cycle, I expect we shall once again be resigned to hearing President Obama defend his secularist views on Christian turf. Once again, we will have to hear how his “personal” Christian beliefs on homosexuality and abortion don’t matter, because they are obviously subservient to a higher power.
What if we as a society were to rely on non-compulsory generosity and “cheerful giving”? What if the church actually lived up to its Biblical calling by at least giving tithes on a consistent basis (there is certainly more work to be done)? …The main question: Why doesn’t the church just do what the Bible says at a minimum?
…The outsourcing of charitable responsibility is nothing new, but it is unfortunate that the promotion of such an approach has become such a proud and advertised staple of the ecumenical movement.
Of the 46% of Christians who believe capitalism is “at odds” or “inconsistent” with Christian values, how many are themselves actively engaged in the capitalist system?
…If we are really going to take such beliefs seriously, these folks have relatively few options at their disposal. Just as the anti-communism Christian should probably avoid the role of communist dictator or violent proletariat rebel, the anti-capitalism Christian should probably avoid the role of capitalist. Sound unrealistic? You’re on to something.
[F]or me and countless others, [Ayn] Rand challenges us — even inspires us — to critique and solidify our own views on the role of the individual, the other, and, above all, God…[A]dmiring certain features of Rand does not automatically transform one into a blind, anti-altruism zombie. It does not, as Whittaker Chambers famously put it, lead to the gas chamber, even if Rand herself may have been packing her bags for precisely that.
The author of Hebrews wrote that “solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” In discussing Rand, let’s stop pretending that Christians are a bunch of babies. Maybe then we can start separating the poison from the peas.
To disconnect faith from reason, Piper argues, is to diminish one’s love for God. To ignore thinking altogether, as many cushier, more seeker-friendly elements of evangelicalism have aimed to do, is just as treacherous as subverting it, which the [Rob] Bells and the [Don] Millers of the world seem more subtly set on accomplishing…
Yet to disconnect reason from faith is to designate and commit that reason elsewhere, leading to a lack of love altogether. But this particular error is not just reserved for atheists. Indeed, the lazy, passive attitude of the aforementioned lukewarm love often indirectly leads to the committing of one’s mind to the things of this world by default. Chances are, if we are ignoring orthodoxy for orthopraxy, our praxy will end up getting pretty laxy.
Members of public-sector unions may think that parading a hollow right to specialized coercion is more dignified than complaining about lower salaries, but I find it to be a revelation of something far more sinister.
Listen up, public-sector unions: You are not the victims. You are the pampered and insulated “elite.” The longer you cling to the roots of your institutionalized privilege, the longer injustice will prevail.
[Jim] Wallis commits the basic error of attaching his limited, earthbound, top-down scheming to his bottom-up, heartfelt desires. Through this warped, debased rendering of the Scripture, all that we thought we knew about Matthew 25 suddenly becomes robbed of its most basic message and meaning…
Wallis takes Jesus’ message about people and compassion and turns it into a message about politics and pressure, dragging in all the baggage that comes with it (and there’s a lot). The rich become sinners, the Right become unrighteous, the Left become holy, and the poor become political pawns in a contorted game of God-told-me-to-tell-you-so.
Not only do Objectivists justify their ethics for different reasons than Christians, Objectivists have arguments against the reasons Christians give for their ethics…
Does this mean that Christians and Objectivists will necessarily clash? On an ethical level, definitely, but on a political level, I’m not sure. It seems that Christians with a particular political philosophy can have the same view as Objectivists on the proper function of government, even if the reasons Christians hold their views differs from the reasons Objectivists hold their views. If this is true, then on a political level, the Objectivist and the Christian would not clash.
In the case of [Rob] Bell’s defenders, many of their claims to anti-judgmentalism assume a pose that is entitled to special treatment. They (and Bell) are allowed to pose controversial questions about the nature of God’s love, while those who disagree with Bell’s arguments are scolded and chided as haters and judgers.
Both are focusing on belief systems and theological claims, but one side is claiming monopolistic authority over who can or should be able to judge the other’s system, which turns it into a discussion about people.
Rather than channel our anger and frustration toward a bunch of big shots who may or may not have wronged us, we should look upward, inward, and onward. There is a major value deficit in the world today — there always has been — and we should be constantly looking for ways to sharpen our position toward filling the void, not sit around and cat-call others to do it for us…
We are all sinners prone to vice. We must all seek our own mercy and redemption. It’s about time we turn the megaphone around and listen.
Over the last few weeks, Ayn Rand has been a frequent topic on the blog (see parts 1, 2, and 3). Thus, I thought it might be beneficial to wrap things up with what I believe to be the key takeaways for Christians.
“For Christians?” you ask? Yes, for Christians.
Atheist and Objectivist William Schultz has done a great job of providing insight into the basics of Randian ethics and how they fundamentally differ from those of Christianity (see here and here). But rather than get into a deep debate over the merits and demerits of such an ethical framework (and/or it’s assumptions, conclusions, etc.), I figured I’d assess what the Christian might learn simply by examining it, assuming one retains their view of God, Christ, “objective” truth, etc. (I hope you have!)
In other words, what I believe we can learn from Rand would most certainly be rejected by Rand herself. In my own spiritual and intellectual journey, Rand has, most simply, challenged me to reconsider and build upon, though not abandon, specific features of my beliefs, and has, in turn, contributed more depth and dimension to the way I, as a Christian, view the individual and his subsequent relationship to God and man.
So, without further explanation, here’s what I think we can learn:
1. Truth matters. This may seem like a given, but today’s Christians have a tendency to elevate “love” above “truth,” as if one can exist without the other (e.g. Love Wins). Rand’s entire premise is that we must strive to discover the truth (the “objective” kind) and by doing so we will somehow achieve happiness (her highest value). For the Christian, our “objective” truth differs drastically from Rand’s. Ours is, shall we say, “super-objective” in the sense that it is supernatural. In addition, “happiness” — either our own or that of others — is not to be our highest end or “value”; the Glory of God is. In many ways, however, Rand seems more concerned with discovering, defining, promoting, and incorporating truth (itself) than Read the rest of this entry »
By William Schultz, Guest Contributor
Editor’s Note: This the second post by guest contributor, William Schultz, who began by providing a basic introduction to the ethics of Ayn Rand. In this installment, William discusses whether (and where) Christians and Objectivists might find common ground.
At a public forum on the minimum wage, a man talked with two people. Both were vigorously opposed to lowering or abolishing the minimum wage.
One of these individuals was a “social-justice” activist whose concern was that abolishing the minimum wage would lead to the exploitation and suffering of the poor. This concern was, however, only the tip of the activist’s ideological iceberg. His ultimate political purpose, his ultimate political value, was a radical egalitarian society which reined in the power of large corporations and wealthy individuals for the sake of the common good.
The other individual was a Wal-Mart lobbyist whose concern was that abolishing the minimum wage would hurt Wal-Mart by increasing the competition the company faced in the market. This concern was, however, only the tip of this lobbyist’s ideological iceberg. His ultimate political purpose, his ultimate political value, was a corporatist state where Wal-Mart’s profits would be indefinitely secured.
These two had a common interest in supporting minimum wage laws. However, their ultimate political values conflicted. With enough time, their political values would clash.
There’s a similarity between the relationship of the two individuals above and the relationship between Christians and Objectivists. Christians believe that men should be treated as ends not means. They believe that murder, theft, initiation of violence, lying, etc. are evil. On these issues, Christians and Objectivists are in agreement.
However, the ultimate value of a Christian is different from the ultimate value of an Objectivist.
Just what are the ultimate values of a Christan and an Objectivist? What criticisms does Read the rest of this entry »
By William Schultz, Guest Contributor
Editor’s Note: I have previously noted the differences between Ayn Rand’s “Objectivism” and Christianity, as well as where I see some overlap. Given the recent prominence of Rand in both the budget talks and the cinema, I thought it timely to provide readers with a general introduction to Randian ethics. To provide such an introduction, I called on William Schultz, an atheist Objectivist and friend of mine. William will follow this post by providing a closer discussion of how Randian ethics (generally) line up against those of Christianity.
I am a rational egoist. In any discussion on morality, the first question I address isn’t “Which moral code should I accept?” Instead, the first question is “Why should I accept any moral code?” Why should I even bother applying “right” and “wrong” to specific actions? Is it all simply a waste of time?
And why shouldn’t I ask this? At first glance, it seems that adopting a moral code is going to place prohibitions on the ways I can act, which might mean all kinds of delightful activities get thrown out the window and the bars of morality are erected in their place. Why would I want that?
Well, I think there are reasons. But first things first.
In order for someone to persuade me that I should accept any moral code, we must first understand what a moral code is. A moral code tells you the types of things you should go after. A moral code is a hierarchy of values. Values are things you act to gain or keep. A hierarchy is a ranking structure. But why should I value some things and not others? And why should I place the things I do value in hierarchical order.
To answer the above questions, we must first recognize a crucial distinction between entities in the universe: the difference between inanimate and animate matter. Inanimate matter has no values. A rock, a rocking chair, the rings of Saturn — these entities don’t have values. These things could care less whether you beat them, break them, or throw them in a box. They can’t “care” at all. They don’t “act” at all. On the other hand, animate organisms face a fundamental Read the rest of this entry »
The American Values Network recently lambasted Rep. Paul Ryan for expressing pro-Rand sentiments in several statements and online videos. In a response ad geared toward Ryan’s supporters, AVN criticized Rand’s atheism and ethics, acting as though Christian conservatives would be shocked to learn of her beliefs.
How could we, as admirers of Rand, ever be aware of her rejection of the Judeo-Christian ethos? She’s sooooo subtle.
I doubt any Christian Rand admirers were surprised at the news. Most of us draw value out of Rand in very specific ways, and we are very used to hearing the majority of our conservative brethren rejecting and lambasting her views outright (see Whittaker Chambers). What the ad really did, then, was illuminate the way the Left continues to misunderstand conservatives, particularly when it comes to what value, if any, they see in Rand.
Let us remember: For progressives, Rand is the epitome of what they are not. She boasts an emphasis on individualism that, in its most basic orientation, is opposed to their top-down, mechanical view of human engagement and society. For them, it is (supposedly) all about the “other,” and for Rand, the other only matters insofar as she is beneficial to the self (not a charming alternative, if you ask me). Faulty ethics aside, in mere political application, Rand’s message is in many ways your typical pro-capitalism shtick — rational self-interest does not negate or disregard the other; rather, it allows humans to identify ways through which they can share, exchange, and collaborate in a productive manner.
Where conservatives typically differ with Rand is on her view of the human person — the nature of the individual himself — and the subsequent moral responsibilities we as individuals have toward others. For example, what precisely is our value? Is it intrinsic? What precisely is in our self-interest? Could it actually be selflessness? It is here that we move away from the political jabber — the primary kumbaya nexus of, say, Atlas Shrugged — and toward the more fundamental disagreements over philosophy and theology (still a largely evident feature of Atlas Shrugged, if not too much so).
Yet, I suspect, even on matters of philosophy and theology, conservatives and Christians can actually find more in common with Rand than they might assume (not to mention what they might learn from their differences). As a way of illuminating this, one might consider how Rand stacks up against other atheist or “non-Christian” thinkers. For example, I continue to hear Rand compared to Karl Marx, as though Read the rest of this entry »
According to a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, “a plurality of Americans believe capitalism [is] at odds with Christian values.” Among Christians in the U.S., “only 38% believe capitalism and the free market are consistent with Christian values while 46% believe the two are at odds.”
This week at Common Sense Concept, I weigh in on the results, noting first that the news is not all that surprising:
Christians are well aware that greed and selfishness are absolute sins, and we are constantly told — albeit falsely — that such sins are the very drivers of capitalism. With pro-capitalism folks like Ayn Rand affirming such myths, it’s no wonder that Christians defer to the stereotype. Such a fundamental misunderstanding comes about for a variety of reasons, but from my experience, it’s typically rooted in one or more of the following: (1) an overly simplistic and all-encompassing view of greed, (2) a materialistic view of wealth, (3) a failure to distinguish between selfishness and self-interest, and (4) a belief that God has something against material inequality.
Yet there is indeed something peculiar about all this. Most particularly: How do these Christians sleep at night if they are actively supporting a fundamentally un-Christian system?
Are they all homeless?
It is on this question that I focus the bulk of my critique:
Of the 46% of Christians who believe capitalism is “at odds” or “inconsistent” with Christian values, how many are themselves actively engaged in the capitalist system? Of the 61% of Americans who believe regulation is necessary to ensure “ethical” business activity, how many truly believe they need to be regulated in order to ethically trade an apple for an orange? Of the 55% of white evangelical Protestants who believe that income inequality is “one of the biggest problems in the country,” how many have a higher income than someone else? Indeed, if any of these folks are simply working in America today, aren’t they profiting from, indeed encouraging, the very capitalistic system that opposes their religious convictions?
Or, in shorter form:
Just as the anti-communism Christian should probably avoid the role of communist dictator or violent proletariat rebel, the anti-capitalism Christian should probably avoid the role of capitalist.
My guess is that most of these Christians are actually at peace with the capitalistic system as it plays out in their own personal lives, and I would wager that the disconnect has more to do with Read the rest of this entry »
I recently wrote a three-part series on the topic of selfless self-interestedness — a concept I have also referred to as superrational self-interest.
As far as I know, the term is new to the realms of theology and political philosophy. Thus, I thought it might be worthwhile to create a post in which I define it a bit more clearly and explain why I think such a term is necessary. This post will also provide a central hub from which the three more extensive posts can be accessed and read as a whole.
The three-part introduction is as follows:
- Part 1: Ayn Rand vs. Jesus
- Part 2: The Spiritual Benefits of Self-Sacrifice
- Part 3: The Physical Benefits of Self-Sacrifice
Upon hearing the term “selfless self-interestedness” I suspect many will dismiss it as an unproductive oxymoron. The rest, I hope, will ask “Why?”
Why, for instance, would someone who believes so adamantly in the power of self-sacrifice want to promote something called “self-interest”? Why, if sacrifice is the ultimate goal, would we even waste our time considering the self or the individual? Even if one actually believes that sacrificial acts are indeed in our self-interest, what’s the point of calling it “sacrifice” in the first place?
The first and most fundamental reason is relatively simple: Jesus himself promotes both and often talks about each in terms of the other. Perhaps the clearest example of this is Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” If this doesn’t provoke a wrestling match between the notions of self-interest and sacrifice, I don’t know what does.
The second and more practical answer is that we as humans tend to structure our most important discussions around the relationship between the self and the other. Unfortunately, such discussions tend to opt for one or the other, rather than looking beyond each as Read the rest of this entry »