Ripe for reassessment

October 8, 2009

In his article "Objectionable content" (17 September), Gerald L. Houseman makes some telling points regarding Ayn Rand's Objectivist project. Citing her major novels, Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, one might be persuaded that she was driven by naked capitalist greed. However, there is far more to her thought than Houseman makes out.

First, she advocates that Objectivist ethics hold a man's life to be the standard of value and the ethical purpose of every individual man. Second, rationality, Rand tells us, means the recognition and acceptance of reason as one's only source of knowledge and yardstick of values: as such, it is people, not systems of thought, that cause catastrophes.

Third, Houseman fails to mention Rand's disdain for what she called "monument builders" and her hatred of totalitarian and fascist states. Perhaps he would applaud those who attack personal freedom?

Regarding Rand's views on altruism, I agree they seem unpalatable. For her, altruism means death, resignation and self-destruction - not the common meanings of the word.

But what she is saying is that human beings should strive to fulfil their potential and not become freeloaders - we are all responsible to ourselves and each other.

In the name of freedom and open debate, we have a duty to air all sides of an argument, however objectionable they may be to our personal dispositions. This is the difference between the rational and irrational being, between freedom and bondage.

If ever the time was ripe to reassess Rand, it's now: we can only dismiss her work after rational debate, not the biased arguments marshalled by Houseman.

Andrew Armitage.

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