Rand Unbound, Part 2

My contribution to Cato Unbound’s Rand symposium is now online. Not many surprises for readers of this blog: I do my Aristotelean eudaimonist dance, my labortarian/anti-conflationist dance, my anarchist dance, and my thick-libertarian dance. (And I drop in links to lots of my friends.)

Here’s Cato’s summary:

In his reply to Rasmussen’s lead essay, Auburn University philosopher Roderick Long sets out to sort the wheat from the chaff in Ayn Rand’s moral and political thought. Long maintains that “Rand sets out to found a classical liberal conception of politics … upon a classical Greek conception of human nature and the human good,” and he goes on to defend the plausibility of this project.

Ayn RandIn particular, Long stands up for Rand’s reliance on a naturalistic teleology to ground her neo-Aristotlean ethic theory, pointing to contemporary philosophical work that supports Rand’s view.

Long is less happy with Rand’s political thought and criticizes her ideas of the “pyramid of ability” and of big business as a “persecuted minority.” Long credits Rand for her trenchant analysis of corporatism, but argues that she was mistaken to deny that corporatism and capitalism go hand in hand. According to Long, Rand’s ideal of voluntary interaction not only implies a radical departure from historical capitalism, but also a more thoroughly anti-statist social order.

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21 Responses to Rand Unbound, Part 2

  1. Roderick January 20, 2010 at 1:53 pm #

    As of this writing, footnote 13’s marker is missing (though footnote 13 is still there). Should be fixed soon.

  2. MBH January 20, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

    You bring her thinking alive.

    I’m hoping you’ll say more about generic universalism with specific pluralism. I’d like to know how that idea contrasts — if at all — with multiculturalism.

    • Roderick January 20, 2010 at 4:22 pm #

      I’ve said a bit more about universalism/pluralism here, and more abut multiculturalism here. (Though re-reading those pieces now, I think “Gee, I was a lot more wishy-washy then!”)

      • MBH January 20, 2010 at 5:51 pm #

        Mind blown.

        • MBH January 20, 2010 at 5:52 pm #

          Seriously. These feel like first principles.

  3. MBH January 20, 2010 at 4:06 pm #

    If Rand’s concept of capitalism has no existing referent, then does that mean that her ideal is a “floating abstraction?” Oh. The irony.

    • Neil January 20, 2010 at 6:30 pm #

      It may float a bit more than praxeological ideals, yet still not enough to get it too far off the ground.

    • Shawn Huckabay January 21, 2010 at 11:32 am #

      A floating abstraction specifically refers to something that CANNOT have an existing referent. For example, if I came up with a design for a flying car, the fact that flying cars do not yet exist does not make my conception of a flying car a floating abstraction.

      • MBH January 21, 2010 at 11:37 am #

        I agree. But that’s exactly why Rand’s ideal is a floating abstraction. She doesn’t distinguish between historical capitalism and ideal capitalism. Since they are mutually exclusive concepts, then to conceive of them together is to conceive of something that CANNOT have an existing referent.

      • MBH January 21, 2010 at 11:53 am #

        If you wanted to, you could argue that in another possible world, ideal capitalism and historical capitalism coincide. But Rand — as far as I can tell — seems to imply that she’s talking about this world. And in this world, that’s not the case.

  4. Roderick January 21, 2010 at 1:11 am #

    Brian Doherty discusses my article over at Hit & Run. The talkback section is … much as usual.

    • JOR January 21, 2010 at 1:19 pm #

      Just when I was starting to think that the comments section on Mises.org was worse…

  5. Mike January 21, 2010 at 7:30 pm #

    Bryan Caplan also comments on the article:


    • MBH January 21, 2010 at 8:19 pm #

      People still make these arguments? Really?

      • Aster January 21, 2010 at 9:25 pm #

        Sadly, they do. And I just lost much of my respect for Bryan Caplan.

        Caplan’s citation of the Bell Curve is revealing enough, to say the least. I heard precisely the same kinds of arguments around my father’s dinner table, except with more emphasis that the justice of the marketplace has revealed Nature in the inferiority of women and brown people, rather than poor people. I’ve always found it strange that invocations of meritocracy almost always seem to come from people defending what are conventional rather than rational orders of merit, and it’s always about how the market rewards native superiority, rather than chosen or learned excellence.

        The mature Rand at least emphasised that the most important distinctions among men and women were between those who chose to think and aspire to greatness, and was often aware that those most hung up on unchosen superficialities such as race and parentage were those who had the least to be genuinely proud of. The trouble is that Rand advocated genuine meritocracy but combined it with a worshipful admiration for the American capitalist class – and her followers have embraced not her individualism but the classism she wrapped around it.

    • johanna January 21, 2010 at 8:36 pm #

      Good lord … at least the comments at H&R made me laugh ….

      • JOR January 22, 2010 at 2:29 pm #

        I dunno. The guy who asked why Roderick hasn’t started a business, if he’s so smart, made me actually laugh out loud.

  6. Sheldon Richman January 22, 2010 at 7:55 am #

    Fantastic article. I have just one correction. I don’t prefer the term “socialism” for the free-market alternative. That would confuse people. What I’ve said is that in a linguistically ideal world, there would be two broad categories of political philosophy: socialism and statism. The freed market would be a form of socialism in that case.

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