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From what I understand, Objectivism advocates rational selfishness - to put yourself before the masses, unless you don't want to - essentially to do what you want instead of blind altruism.

In the case of rich people, it would clearly make more sense for them to advocate capitalism since they get to keep their money.

But socialism is usually supported by proletariats. They're acting in their self interest to maximize their wealth, since they would benefit the most from it.

So why does Objectivism support capitalism, instead of letting the individual decide what economic system benefits him the most?

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  • In part it's the whole fist/nose thing. You're not allowed to "steal" from other people. Someone more familiar with Objectivism will have to explain to what extent society (i.e. individuals, collectively) is allowed to enforce the minimal contributions necessary to produce a functioning society. I was never very satisfied with Objectivists' explanations of this, nor convinced I had the canonical answer. So this is only a comment. – Rex Kerr Apr 4 '14 at 0:00
  • @RexKerr What do you mean by "allowed" to "steal"? Allowed by whom? I thought the whole point of the philosophy was that you dictate what you do according to your own standards, not society's? – dfg Apr 4 '14 at 0:05
  • Refer to aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/socialism.html – prash Apr 4 '14 at 0:42
  • I... messed up with the edit. Forgot I didn't have enough rep here to have my edits immediately approved. Please fix it, and sorry :/ – Cristol.GdM Apr 4 '14 at 16:58
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    Having "studied" Ayn Rand when I was in high school (the ideal age to read her, I believed at the time and still do) some 50 years ago, I am astonished to find anyone on this forum seriously discussing her writings. Her notions are more at home in right-wing rants, not philosophy. But the last sentence of the poster's query is clever indeed. Why DOES Ms. Rand's "objectivism" support capitalism rather than letting the individual determine the most beneficial economic system for him? Mr Allegranza's question may well point to the crack in the objectivist screed. Rand is (was) a true believer, an – user5947 Apr 6 '14 at 15:54

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First, selfishness does not mean putting yourself before the masses. It means doing what is in your rational self interest. In order to make your life better you have to try to discover stuff about how the world works and how to change the world to make your life better. Rationality is about accepting the responsibility of judging issues yourself, rejecting contradictions, not trying to get away with faking and other stuff. Objectivists think there is no conflict between the rational self interest of different people.

Second, rich people who are not rational may lose money under capitalism. There are many characters in Rand books that fit this description, e.g. - James Taggart in Atlas Shrugged. Only rational rich people, such as Rearden in Atlas Shrugged, will make money. So capitalism is in their rational self interest, acting on whatever whim the rich person wants to indulge will go badly for him.

Third, rational poor people will also do well under capitalism but not under socialism. Under capitalism they will be able to improve their lives. Under socialism their interests will be sacrificed to those of people who are irrational. Socialism is not in anybody's self interest since it involves sacrificing rational people to appease incompetent and irrational people. And incompetent and irrational people who refuse to improve are going to have a bad time anyway since they are trying to evade reality.

See "Atlas Shrugged", "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal", http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/rationality.html, http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/capitalism.html, http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/socialism.html, http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/self-interest.html. http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/selfishness.html.

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    +1 because this is a good description of the position of Objectivists, even though I personally largely disagree on the details (due to evidence that the premises are wrong). – Rex Kerr Apr 4 '14 at 19:22
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    @Lucas - That humans are rational agents (or that trying to act fully rational produces optimal or even satisfactory behavior). That self-interest is the only (or only desirable) goal or instinct. That self-interest provides adequate support for the have-nots, whether they have not because they are poor, young, discriminated against, etc., to either develop their rationality or the other skills they need. That irrational actors cannot gain unfair advantage in a Capitalistic society fashioned for rational actors. – Rex Kerr Apr 4 '14 at 22:09
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    @RexKerr: Rand doesn't say that everybody is rational. Nor does Rand say you should never help people who are worse off, provided they are willing to improve and it is in your interest to do so. Acting rationally consists of not acting on ideas that have not survived criticism and in looking for ways to criticise and improve current ideas. So why do you think acting rationally is sometimes wrong? Is there any time when it is right to act on an idea that has failed to stand up for criticism, or when it is right to stop looking for better ideas? – alanf Apr 7 '14 at 14:40
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    @alanf - I think that Rand dramatically overestimated how rational people actually are / can be, and there is something to be said for the robustness of a society where people help each other even when it isn't in their interest to do so (except very indirectly in that it is nice to live in a society where people take care of each other. I've nothing against using evidence and logic to shape behavior and evidence and ethics. It's the extreme individualism that doesn't work; in non-Objectivists that is often tempered by (individualistically) irrational pro-social behavior. – Rex Kerr Apr 7 '14 at 14:59
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    It's not a matter of changing minds so much as that we start off with sizable biases. For instance, people overestimate their own ability relative to the group average even when they know about this bias (see for instance en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bias_blind_spot). To try to create a system of morality without taking into account this and a myriad of other cognitive biases is, well, irrational (or at least lazy, these days; this was less well understood in Rand's day). It's akin to demanding someone live without sin, but not giving them Jesus to forgive them when they fail. – Rex Kerr Apr 8 '14 at 14:33
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Ayn Rand philosophical hero is Aristotle, and her work bears comparison with his work on Ethics that he wrote for his son, and is named after him - Nicomachean Ethics, its commonly called virtue ethics.

Aristotle explains that virtue is to keep to centre and away from extremes. For example the virtue of courage is the midpoint of the two extremes of cowardice and recklessness. To judge by her book, the virtues of selfishness, and despite its name Rand also aims for that centre - she regards actual selfishness as well as actual selflessness as extremes.

Rand fled communist Russia and her work reflected the enormous upheaval that Russian society then went through, its clear that she belonged to a class that benefited from then social structure - she was the daughter of a successful pharmacist & businessman. After the outbreak of the revolution their property was confiscated.

As a Russian with a visceral hatred for the Revolution, her work found a ready audience given the Cold War geopolitics.

Both Socialism and Communism developed as a force against the ravages of 19C Capitalism. The first advocating a reformist agenda, and the second a revolutionary one.

In this video, Rand explains she advocates neither collectivism for employers nor for employees. She advocates laissez-faire. How this can work in practise without reverting to collectivism is left unexplained. Collectivism for the employees (the vast majority in any economy), roughly speaking, is aligned with Socialism; Collectivism for employers, again roughly speaking, could be termed an Oligarchy, where the interests of the powerful propertied few command the heights of the economy.

However, one ought to note, to complicate this very simple picture that Britain until the 80s had an economy that was managed by a compact between Industry, Government & Labour; a similar compact in Japan powered its economy from post-war disaster to the second strongest economy globally until just recently.

Interestingly enough, a recent study by Princeton University shows that the USA is an oligarchy. One might suppose a similar effect is probable in all the major Western economies, and when this ties in with the explicitly named Autocratic Capitalism of the Russian Federation, and the State Capitalism of China; it appears that Capital is best served, if one is to go by empirical evidence, not democracies but oligarchies of one form or another.

So it appears that the evidence is against Rand.

Strangely enough, in her last few years her heavy smoking habits caught up with her, and she developed lung-cancer; and she recieved Social Security & Medicare for treatment (though the facts and interpretation of the situation have been disputed). Treatment and help, had she her own way, would not have been there.

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    Mod deletes comments Please don't use comments for long discussions. If you have an answer, it goes in an answer; otherwise consider moving long discussions to chat – Joseph Weissman Apr 23 '14 at 1:08
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http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/socialism.html

When you consider socialism, do not fool yourself about its nature. Remember that there is no such dichotomy as “human rights” versus “property rights.” No human rights can exist without property rights. Since material goods are produced by the mind and effort of individual men, and are needed to sustain their lives, if the producer does not own the result of his effort, he does not own his life. To deny property rights means to turn men into property owned by the state. Whoever claims the “right” to “redistribute” the wealth produced by others is claiming the “right” to treat human beings as chattel.

Rand goes on identifying and elaborating on the concept of collectivism.

Collectivism is the theory that the group (the collective) has primacy over the individual. Collectivism holds that, in human affairs, the collective—society, the community, the nation, the proletariat, the race, etc.—is the unit of reality and the standard of value. On this view, the individual has reality only as part of the group, and value only insofar as he serves it; on his own he has no political rights; he is to be sacrificed for the group whenever it—or its representative, the state—deems this desirable.

I'm not really sure what more there is to explain other than to point out that it has nothing to do with the shallow immediate economic gain for the masses and everything to do with the principle of self-ownership. Any shallow immediate economic gain can't have any substance if "you" are nothing but a piece of property owned by the state.

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  • You forgot to add one little part of your treatise: Who owns the state? The people. Better that the people have control over their future than the capitalist slave owners. – user48488 Jul 8 at 19:03
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You own your time and your skills, they're your private property. When you work for an employer you're trading your time and skills for compensation. That compensation is still your private property because it is your time and skill only in a converted form.

Taxation for infrastructure (police, fire, roads etc.) is taxation for services rendered in fair exchange (or should be). Taxation for welfare to private citizens or corporations is theft.

To use government to force people to give up portions of their private property under threat of violence is immoral because it is theft and it is criminal because the politicians who promise to do this are buying votes.

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  • Why is it immoral? According to whom? – dfg Apr 4 '14 at 20:36
  • Morality isn't decided by people according to Rand. A moral idea is either right or wrong and this can be decided by argument. – alanf Apr 7 '14 at 14:29
  • @dfg in the moral system of objectivism, which is supposedly a rational morality. – Dave Jun 30 '14 at 14:09
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There are a lot of false premises in this question. (As Rand would say, "check your premises".) Firstly, it is not true that socialism is usually supported by the lower classes, or that they stand to gain from this system. Historically, it has almost always been the case that progress to socialism is driven by a "vanguard" of wealthy elites (often being the offspring of wealthy capitalists), and it is this class (who will become the nomenklatura of the socialist state) that benefit under socialism. Indeed, it was Lenin's great frustration that the workers were not revolting against capitalism, and he argued ---contra Marx--- that a vanguard of intellectuals was required to undertake this task.

Now, with regard to Objectivism, one of the key tenets of its moral philosophy is that the initiation of force is immoral, and that this gives rise to individual rights, which are recognitions of the fact that it is wrong for individuals to be aggressed against by others. This would include the appropriation of a person's property against their will, which is required under socialism in order to place the means-of-production-and-distribution in the hands of the state. Objectivist moral philosophy recognises that the initiation of force does not become okay merely because it is done in an organised manner, or by a large group of people (e.g., by the state). Since Objectivism objects to the appropriation of property, it opposes the drive of socialism to put the means of production into the hands of the state, and other aggressions that occur under socialism.

Objectivism also does not equate "selfishness" with doing whatever you want. That is a subjective view that is rejected in Objectivism (and usually associated with Nietzche). This is the reason that Rand often predicates this term by referring to "rational selfishness", and stressing that what is actually selfish is a matter of discovery according to reason.

The Objectivist view of socialism is that it is a system in which a privileged elite within the state engage in systematic theft from the population, thereby violating the non-aggression principle of Objectivist moral philosophy. Rand argues that this system is motivated by appeals to envy, and is an immoral system of governance. She argues that free-market capitalism is the only moral system of governance, since it is the only system that obeys the non-aggression principle (though there are many arguments on this point between anarcho-capitalists and Objectivists).

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At the root of the question, Objectivists reject absolute socialism because it requires the explicit commitment (though often acquired through tacit consent) of an entire society. It also sets many limitations on pursuing personal needs, in lieu of a collective equality. Theoretically, this collective equality is supposed to provide a greater collective freedom, since those with not enough are liberated from their strife. However, a strict socialist economy wholly rejects Capitalist behaviors because they contradict the required collective commitments of Socialist economics.

Oppositely, socialist behavior isn't outright rejected by Capitalism. Capitalism endorse a freedom to choose, relying on the "invisible hand" of the free market to create the equilibrium of the social and economic distribution of goods, services and capital. This freedom allows anyone to act out their socialist ideals, though they may not be the most effective or sustainable method.

In this way its clear why an Objectivist, who values that freedom to act in one's own best interests, would support a system that emphasizes personal freedom, over collective freedom.

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EGOISM

If egoism is a matter of gratifying your desires, maximizing your personal utilities, indulging your emotions, or satisfying your wishes, regardless of the interests of others, then this is not objective egoism. It's pure or naive egoism.

OBJECTIVE OR RATIONAL EGOISM

What it is rational to do in order to gratify your desires, &c., may involve essential reference to the interests of others. In other words, objective or rational egoism involves performing some action if and only if our so doing would optimise our self-interest (the egoistic bit) but to achieve optimisation we may need to practice adaptive egoism. We may only be able to optimise on condition that we adapt our egoism to the interests of others (the objective or rational bit).

OBJECTIVE EGOISM, CONTEXTUALITY AND SOCIALISM

In other words, objective or rational egoism is contextual : how it is rational to behave in order optimise our self-interest depends on the context of our actions. There is, so far as I can see, no a priori reason why the context cannot be socialist. Conditions are imaginable in which the institution of private property, with its rights of exclusive individual control, and the operation of markets for private profit, would work against optimising our own self-interest. Such might be conditions of extreme scarcity in which unless we combined and shared resources, taking into account the interests of others in return for their reciprocation, we should all be worse off than need be and even perish.

ANTI-SOCIALIST HANG-UP

Objectivists are pro-capitalist because capitalism appears to optimise our self-interest through the pursuit and gain of private profit. If objectivists flexed their imaginations they would realise that objective or rational egoism is contextual and, whether they like it or not, the context for optimising our self-interest might - logically could be - socialist. There is nothing whatever to rule this out.

This is not an argument for socialism, only for intellectual flexibility and for realising the implications of one's own ideas.

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Simply put, objectivism considers the only ethical obligation for a person to be the engagements they took with fully informed consent. One can imagine a labor union working this way, with members freely consenting to register and able to opt out whenever they want.

But socialism requires the society as a group to own and dispose of property, and enforce decisions about it. Take a strike, for example. A strike's effectiveness depends on the fact that laborers can enforce the decision to cease work on non-strikers, and prevent other laborers from using the factory, although they don't own it. Without this, the factory owner can just replace them and they loose their leverage. Objectivism does not consider disposing of someone else's property in this way to be ethical.

One could argue that, since objectivism justify the strikers in looking for their own interest, they could just do so and disregard the fundamental tenet of objectivsm that their boss should not be bound by something he or she didn't agree to. But that would be blatantly hypocritical.

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Here is a full answer:

You have to start from the basics and reach capitalism in order to make sense.

  1. Reality exists and you are conscious of it. That is to say reality is objective and primary. Your mind doesn't create it but perceives it.
  2. You observe that you have volition, and you can choose to pursue living but you don't have to.
  3. Your senses give you information about the world around you, and you can act on this information.
  4. You see that in order to live you need to pursue certain values. You don't just choose to live and survive, you have to interact with nature in a way that promotes your life. Building a personal hierarchy of values is the equivalent of a moral code. So without other people involved so far, just you and nature, you are able to establish morality on the basis of valuing that which supports life.
  5. With the knowledge gathered so far, we can ask the question: what principles concerning our relation to each other are a logical step from the principles guiding our individual actions in nature? Objectivism uses individual rights to link morality with politics governing a society. We established that you need to use your mind to pursue living and that you need values. That's why you need freedom and property rights and to acknowledge other people's rights by not violating them.
  6. Back in step 4 we do not observe that your values vanish, nor do we observe that you receive these values without pursuing them. That's why it is also not necessary in a society that one man be forced to serve another.

I think this is all you need to understand why capitalism, which I just think of as the right to use your mind and obtain property, is justified and socialism is not justified. You can start with this base and then extrapolate to a world like ours where someone can be born and grow up with very little property and see everything around him is owned by others. You can also think of what type of property rights system you would build and so on. I just think that no matter how much you would yourself choose to regulate the world, you cannot fully argue to remove people's freedom and property rights. The reality is that you are the product of your parent's actions in the world and society doesn't have to help you because it didn't even choose to make you. All capitalism acknowledges is your nature and give you rights, not any guarantee that you will survive/obtain the values you want.

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Objectivism doesn't start at rational egoism. Rational egoism is epiphenomenal, a natural outcome (or perhaps symptom) of deeper elements of the objectivist worldview. At heart, objectivism constructs a heroic perspective of humankind, built on the following principles:

  • That human existence — the existence of the conscious self — is the objective grounding on which everything else rests
  • That this conscious existence depends on the rational and systematic application of thought to the (objective) material conditions in which it finds itself
  • That (finally) the fundamental nature of human consciousness is to secure the conditions of its own existence.

Rand's heroes — as we see in all her books — are those who walk a narrow line of reason. On one hand, they do not give deference to social authority or established norms, which objectivism views as unconscious (unthinking) reactivity. On the other hand, they do not engage in frivolous or fanciful indulgences, which are the flip-side of that social deference: an unconscious (unthinking) embracing of social norms and values. Reason and will become the sword and shield by which one defends against unconscious dissipation and cuts a path towards existential security. But they are weapons one must pick up and use; one must fight against a natural human tendency to drop them in favor of easy intuitions, reactions, and urges.

It's worth noting that Rand (in context) was responding to an implicit nihilism that was common to the philosophy of her day. Much of early 20th century philosophy was built on Nietzsche's rejection of conventional morality as hollow and corrupt formalities. However, while more notable philosophies like existentialism, phenomenology, and absurdism focused on the (essentially negative) task of breaking down the hold that social constructions and conventions have over us, objectivism merely brushed that problem away, blithely differentiating between those who manage the task through will and reason and those who do not. In a sense, Rand created a kind of secular Calvinism, in which material success becomes the measure of the inner (spiritual, though Rand would despise the term) success of reason.

While it may be possible to rectify objectivism with certain forms of Marxist thought, as a general rule collective action naturally subsumes the will and thought of the individual to a form of collective authority. One can imagine, perhaps, a union forming because every single worker independently decides it is in their best interests, but in reality such things usually become a matter of loyalty: to our fellow workers, or to the company that employs us; to the present subsistence granted by a paycheck, or to a brighter future... For Rand, this is merely a contest of unconscious reactions, where we pit our fear of unemployment and poverty against the fear of social stigma, and never have the opportunity to stop and think proactively about what is best for ourselves.

However, Rand's implicit secular-Calvinist tendencies create a bias. Those who have materially succeeded — business owners, corporate CEOs, etc — are presumed to be rational by virtue of their success, and thus are taken as examples of the objectivist ideal. Those who are consigned to the workforce — who live on the edge of existential failure because they depend on a weekly paycheck from others — have failed the objectivist ideal, and are presumed to be irrational. The collective activity of irrational actors is ipso facto irrational, and thus union formation, social-interest politics, or any of the other things that are often loosely lumped under the label 'socialist' are necessarily anti-objectivist.

In the objectivist world, the problems ostensibly created by capitalism are actually created because laborers don't exercise the power of thought and reason. Rand would argue, I imagine, that the Marxist concept of exploitation only has reality because laborers allow themselves to be exploited. If laborers used reason they would all individually decide not to work for less than they wanted. If that meant that they starved or became homeless while struggling for their desires, so be it. Such struggles are part of the heroic journey of being a human consciousness, and even a heroic death-in-misery is better than living in thrall to irrational dictates. As a result, Rand holds capitalism to be faultless: success or failure is a measure of the individual's capacity to rational action, and no societal or contextual factors matter, because those are merely obstacles to be overcome by reason and will.

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Socialism destroys wealth. That's bad for everyone. See https://mises.org/library/human-action-0 and https://mises.org/sites/default/files/Socialism%20An%20Economic%20and%20Sociological%20Analysis_3.pdf and http://www.capitalism.net/Capitalism/CAPITALISM_Internet.pdf

Objectivists want to produce wealth for themselves, not take it from richer people. Objectivism values productivity and opposes taking the unearned by force.

Socialism is collectivist. Objectivist is individualist.

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  • How does this stack up empirically? Europe is we known to be founded on social and liberal democracy; yet it seems to be doing very we for itself. – Mozibur Ullah May 20 '18 at 10:56

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