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Me on Rand – courtesy of the Sunday Times

Yes, I’m ba-ack. Hard disk problems, and then as soon as this was semi-sorted to the point where I was able to start reading Samizdata again, and to think about writing for Samizdata again, I was commanded by the Sunday Times (to whom our editor-in-chief forbids links because they require subscriptions) to write an article about, and I love this, Ayn Rand.

I told them I wasn’t really the person to be doing this, since, how can I put this, I don’t agree with her about, you know, her philosophy. But they were adamant, and my efforts – somewhat shortened and rewritten and re-arranged and with some tiny factual errors added and opinions that I don’t quite hold stirred in, and some anti-Rand insults kept in but with the small but perfectly crafted prior justifications of them cut out, but nothing drastic enough to matter what with it only being the newspapers – did appear in the day before yesterday’s Sunday Times (August 18 2002), and I may even be getting some money.

All those who really, really want to read the full article as printed should email me, and I’ll send it in full. For the rest of you, be happy that some worthwhile points were made, and some ideas approximating to libertarianism were plugged.

For most people, acting on behalf of others is good and acting selfishly is bad. Rand turned such talk on its head and glorified what she called “the virtue of selfishness”, thus providing a moral justification of capitalism; not because of what may be done with its proceeds, but because of the very nature of capitalism itself.

The story told in Atlas Shrugged is of the sovietisation of America, of the New Deal taken to its logical conclusion of outright state centralist socialism. In this world the capitalists, dispossessed of their fortunes by the new regime and yet still utterly depended upon by all to keep the world ticking over, go on strike. They choose to stop carrying the world on their shoulders in order that the world may realise what a responsibility it is that they bear. Atlas, in other words, shrugs and the country feels the consequences.

In my original version there was then a bit about how Howard Roark, the architect hero of The Fountainhead, is an impossible character who had swallowed the nostrums of the Modern Movement in architecture whole. He is presented by Rand as omniscient, which is impossible. In other words, the following assertion was not merely asserted; it had been explained and justified.

There is something adolescent about the defiantly bad-mannered intellectual self-sufficiency of Rand’s heroes. So although we pro-capitalists often start by getting excited about Rand, we usually move on to other and better explanations of the superiority of capitalism, supplied by the likes of Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises and David (son of Milton) Friedman.

I should have included Murray Rothbard there. Sorry Murray Rothbard. However I didn’t want to say that Rand is total rubbish, so thank god they also kept this next bit.

But we do hold fast to Rand’s proclamation of the moral excellence of capitalism and of the wrongness of those who would destroy it.

But …

… capitalism is indeed moral, but not because it is “selfish”. It is moral because it’s based on consent. Consent is good because when it rules, the only things that happen are things that everyone directly involved likes better than any available alternatives.

The piece then continues that “for the Tories”:

… Rand confirms rather than contests anti-capitalist prejudices about how “selfish” and hence how unhelpful capitalism is to everyone other than capitalists.

Actually that was me stating my own opinion, not reporting on any Tory opinion.

Does the consent principle, as the “libertarian” Tories believe …

No they bloody don’t! That last bit was, again, added to make the piece about Tories rather than about merely hardcore libertarians like me, who don’t count, and whose opinions won’t stir up any rows.

… also justify drug taking, bare-knuckle boxing, prostitution, polygamy, lowering the school leaving age to zero, euthanasia, gay marriage? They would argue that it does; people who take the consent principle as seriously as this are called libertarians.

Quite so. Not “libertarian Tories”.

Their fundamental belief is that providing people consent, they should be allowed to do what they like without state interference – a sentiment Rand would heartily approve of.

That last extremely dubious qualification was also added. Accept through gritted teeth more like. For as I was allowed to go on to say:

… she never called herself a libertarian.


… libertarians, and in general any political activists looking for arguments in favour of capitalism, tend to have heard of her and are anything from impressed at arm’s length to wildly enthusiastic.

Why? Because she offers a fiercely intellectual defence of economic freedom, free markets and of the institutions that result.

… Above all, she was right about the need for the “intellectual struggle”. She may not have got all the details right but she completely understood that an intellectual counter-offensive against the forces of anti-capitalist collectivism was necessary.

That simple idea may be her most enduring legacy. The enemies of capitalism are now more cunning, more inclined towards debilitation by regulation than straightforward murder by outright politicised theft -at any rate here in Britain, for the time being.

All the more reason, then, for pro-capitalists such as the Tories to think, and to read, not just books by Rand but also books generally. Ideas matter. There is more to politics than just getting and holding office.

And so on. Not too ghastly. And particularly good was that they tailed it with me being the editorial director of the Libertarian Alliance and then printed the address of the LA website. This has caused what by LA website standards has been a definite hit-surge.

In general, I don’t know whether to be pathetically grateful that my opinions were aired – with almost complete accuracy – in one of our great national organs, or irritated that they took it upon themselves to make tiny but annoying alterations. I don’t query their right to edit their own newspaper, and I realise I didn’t make it easy for them. I just wish they’d done it a bit better.

These slight alterations are not completely insignificant. They turn me, from someone who is accurately describing his own opinions, into someone who is trying to stir up trouble in the Conservative Party by attributing opinions to members of it that they almost certainly don’t hold.

What kind of world is it when, in sheer self-defence, you have to Fisk your own newspaper articles?

I prefer Samizdata. My stuff here may sometimes be rubbish, but at least it’s all my own rubbish.

It’s good to be back.

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