Individualism, America, and Ayn Rand

 Posted by on 30 July 2008 at 12:00 am  History, Objectivism
Jul 302008

The following letter appeared in the online edition of the July 13, 2008 Denver Post, with negative reference to individualism and Ayn Rand. Since her name doesn’t frequently appear in our local paper, I took this as an opportunity to set the record straight.

Here is the original letter:

It wasn’t individualism that settled the West

Re: “The Cowboy Myth,” July 6 Perspective article.

There are two problems with Jeffrey Lockwood’s support of the Cowboy Myth. First, we are constantly told that it was reality, that cowboys were the essential ingredient in the winning of the West. Truth is, the average cowboy was about as significant as today’s parking lot attendant.

Perpetuating the Hollywood/dime fiction image of the cowboy propagates the false belief that Ayn Rand individualism was the historical way and will be the best future way to solve our nation’s problems. Truth is, the sodbusters were the key, the heroes: risking all, sticking determinedly in their forlorn shacks to raise their crops and banding together to raise their barns, build their schools and defend their homes.

The key to our nation’s past successes was Americans joining together in common cause, not individualism. Working together will also be the key to our future.

Bill Belew
Boulder, CO

My response was as follows:

America was made by great individuals working under a system which (albeit imperfectly) protected their right to use their rational minds to create value and advance their lives. Where would we be without the likes of Thomas Edison, Westinghouse, and Henry Ford? This was a key insight of Ayn Rand and she deserves tremendous credit for promoting a philosophy that celebrates individual achievement — the philosophy that underlies the positive and optimistic “can do” American sense of life.

Of course individuals can and should band together voluntarily when it suits their purposes. I have no problem with “working together” with others for mutual benefit as a voluntary arrangement, as many did in the Old West.

However, this notion is too-often corrupted into a vicious morality which preaches that the collective should take precedence over the individual, that individuals should be coerced to help one other, and that therefore we need massive government intrusions into the economy (such as “universal health care”) to automatically provide for everyone’s needs at taxpayer expense.

This approach will destroy the sorts of individuals who made America great, and will eventually destroy America. We need to celebrate and support the individuals who embody the American spirit and work-ethic, not punish them.

Paul Hsieh
Sedalia, CO

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