If life is the standard of value in Objectivism, and Stalin experienced personal fulfillment ... then are moral judgments about Stalin's life to be -- according to Objectivist philosophy -- based upon Stalin's observed efficacy and the extended duration of the flourishing period of his life that occurred after he abandoned his efforts to become an Orthodox Christian priest?

  • If you go back and read Russian history from Peter the Great forward, and particularly from Catherine the Great forward, you will see that time and again the aristocracy put off the implementation of social reform, the peasant problem and so on, and Russia missed the early part of the start of the industrial revolution which bagan in England and all that, so by the time Stalin (a "strong man" in the typical Russian tradition) took over, Russia had a lot of catching up to do, which in the hands of a meglomaniac like Stalin was apt to be particularly brutal.
    – Gordon
    Aug 11, 2019 at 15:23
  • Sort of in the Eastern mode of USSR, Stalin kept his top men in the Kremlin around him all day and into the morning of the next day (they would go to his house for a late/early supper with quite a bit of drinking). It is hard to say that he flourished, he had reason to be paranoid but he took it to extremes.
    – Gordon
    Aug 11, 2019 at 16:21
  • 1
    Lovely question! Especially the way you pit two seemingly opposed monstrosities against each other – objectivism and communism!! But it won't stand up to scrutiny I think: as far as we know Stalin died a horrible death. Simplest explanation : God punished him for his sins. Or choose any other (religious) format ad libitum eg karma. (Book by his daughter but can't find much online)
    – Rushi
    Aug 12, 2019 at 4:27
  • Life is the standard of value, but honest recognition of reality is the basis upon which an objectivist should act. Stalin consistently denied and fled from reality. There's a lot of Objectivist literature which explains why simply 'doing what you want' is not acting in one's objective self-interest. Short version: You think Stalin was truly happy? Aug 12, 2019 at 16:17
  • @Ask About Monica "Stalin consistently denied and fled from reality." Given the large number of people using mind-altering drugs in the USA (and thus creating an incentive for narco-trafficking across borders), and given that Canada has recently legalized cannabis (aka marijuana) are there any contingency plans for governments in North America to deal with the anticipated explosion in the number of potential dictators? With all of those people fleeing from reality, and thus following in the footsteps of Stalin, what can be done to prevent them from becoming as powerful as Stalin? Oct 30, 2019 at 5:16

2 Answers 2


Objectivism is inconsistent philosophical theory

Alisa Rosenbaum (Ayn Rand) created Objectivism in an attempt to justify her political ideas and to an extent explain her literary works . Main theme of her work is idea of so called ethical egoism - sentient being should act firstly and foremost in their own self-interest, but should avoiding harming others if they can. To avoid devolving society into war of all against all , she proposed that individual should have certain moral code, but primary purpose of that code is to ensure his self-interest. Objectivism as a philosophy envisioned society with limited government and minimal sets of laws, yet that government would have monopoly of the force - but only so much power over citizens as they allow it.

Obviously, as a philosophical theory, Objectivism is full of holes.Sentient being (man in this case) acting exclusively in self-interest would have no interest to restrain himself with any code except Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. On the other hand, he would have interest to feign concern and to supports certain laws of society while they suit him . When he gets in position of power it would be quite natural of him to push for change of those laws, or to warp them in a manner to cement his position. This actually does happen often in real life - for example libertarians and conservatives (most ardent supporters of Objectivism) lately often complain of Google censorship. Yet they are vehemently opposed to any type of government control over so called free market that did allow Google to get in such position of power.

Now, if we look at the life of Stalin from Randian perspective, and assume that he consciously acted only in his self-interest (which could be true, but is debatable), few things could be noticed. First of all, in Russian Imperial society before the Revolution people like Stalin had little chance for upward mobility (he could become a priest and that is that). Therefore, it was rational for him to support ideology that promised complete overturn of current system, even if such ideology entailed risk of being imprisoned, executed etc ... Second, it was completely rational for him to support ideology that promised equality and redistribution of wealth, since such ideologies certainly do raise support among potential revolutionary foot soldiers (if you have nothing, you have nothing to lose) . Thirdly, when he got in a position of power after 1917, it was completely rational for him to seek solidifying of such power by scheming, removing potential rivals, enacting laws that gave him power, deceiving about his good intentions etc ... Considering that Stalin remained a ruler of USSR till the end of his life, accomplished a lot and certainly changed the world, it could be said that he acted rationally in his own self-interest and had "flourishing life" from Objectivistic perspective no matter what misery this brought to numerous other human beings.

Now, Objectivists could argue that the duty of those around Stalin was to stop him (for example by enacting libertarian laws or simply killing him) . But in reality, most of the people around him actually did act (or tried to act) in their own self-interest. Revolution was violent from the beginning, those that were involved knew they would have to be more ruthless then counter-revolutionary forces in order to win. They actually welcomed creation of large state security apparatus because it (al least at first) protected their interests. Later, when Stalin got control of it, they calculated that it was much more rational to go with the flow, work with the system, denounce someone and advance in career, then to actively plan a revolution and overthrow of Stalin. This is a problem of banality of evil, and one that Objectivism cannot solve : those who care first and foremost about themselves (idiots by original Greek definition) are not exactly John Galt types.


If life is the standard of value in Objectivism, and Stalin experienced personal fulfillment ... then are moral judgments about Stalin's life to be -- according to Objectivist philosophy -- based upon Stalin's observed efficacy and the extended duration of the flourishing period of his life that occurred after he abandoned his efforts to become an Orthodox Christian priest?

Rand thought that each person should act in his rational self interest. This would allow each person to improve his life by coming up with better ideas about how to live. Stalin didn't act in his rational self interest. He was a murderer who spent his life as the head of a gang of murderers. To become the head of the gang, he murdered other gang members. He then had to be on the lookout lest other people murder him. The communists' campaign of murder was based on Marx's bad ideas about economics and political philosophy. Somehow murdering and expropriating productive people was supposed to lead to economic and political progress. It didn't, because killing people and breaking stuff doesn't make anyone better off, and so Russia was a lot poorer than it would have been without those murders and thefts. Being an orthodox priest would have sucked too, and Stalin should have picked some third option.

  • What does it mean to identify a standard of value? I thought that Ayn Rand was proposing to explain why it is wrong to murder or be the head of a gang of murderers. If a life that includes committing sins is on those grounds classified as non-flourishing, then we are relying upon a prior conception of sin, and not providing an account of the basis for moral values. In describing Stalin as having lived a flourishing life, I was not expressing approving of his actions. I was temporarily refraining from judging Stalin on moral grounds. Was it Stalin's failure to flourish that set him apart? Oct 4, 2019 at 1:33
  • A standard of value is a standard by which you decide how to rank different ways of living. Rand's standard was rational self interest as I said in the question. To see her explanation of that standard see the essay "The objectivist ethics" in "The Virtue of Selfishness" and the title essay in "Philosophy: Who Needs It".
    – alanf
    Oct 4, 2019 at 8:22
  • A textual analysis of an entire essay that is not in the public domain doesn't sound as though it would be a promising approach. Is the adjective "rational" in the phrase "rational self-interest" serving a simple function like the adjective "odd" in the phrase "odd integer", or is the whole phrase "rational self-interest" given a special meaning that is not transparent based on its components, like the so-called "German Democratic Republic" that included East Berlin, a wall to keep people in, and guards to shoot escaping people in the back? Oct 4, 2019 at 12:51
  • This, "Stalin didn't act in his rational self interest. He was a murderer … .", seems to imply that his being a murderer proves that he didn't act in his rational self interest. I don't see how that follows. I don't see anything at all in this post that supports that statement. Oct 4, 2019 at 12:53
  • @RayButterworth I think the part about killing people and breaking stuff doesn't make anyone better off justifies that Stalin was not acting in his rational self interest. +1 Oct 4, 2019 at 15:09

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .