The conservative blog Secular Right has started an open thread on Ayn Rand. Some of the contributors to this blog include high-profile conservative intellectuals such as Heather Mac Donald, John Derbyshire, Walter Olson, and Razib Khan who are sympathetic to secular ideals. Hence, this is an excellent opportunity for Objectivists to leave thoughtful, polite comments supporting Rand’s ideas.
Here’s the comment I left:
Ayn Rand’s greatest contribution to the realm of political philosophy was her explicit moral defense of capitalism. Too many defenders of capitalism on the political right are lukewarm on capitalism. They argue that it “works” (in the sense of delivering material prosperity), but regard the essential element of capitalism (the pursuit of one’s self-interest) as morally suspect. For instance, Irving Kristol only gives capitalism “two cheers” in his famous book by the same title because he regards capitalism as lacking an essential moral dimension.
In contrast, Rand argued that capitalism is moral precisely because it allows men to pursue their self-interest. At an implicit level, most Americans understand this. They want to be happy, prosper, and pursue goals and values that are important to their own lives.
And this country is a beacon of hope to millions of people around the world precisely because it promises an “American dream” where honest, hard-working people can make a better life for themselves. It is this promise that drew my parents to America from Taiwan over 40 years ago. They came over to this country with little more than the clothes on their back. But they worked hard, prospered, sent two children to medical school, and are now enjoying a happy and well-earned retirement.
Many thinkers on the right do a very good job defending capitalism on economic grounds. But capitalism needs a moral defense as well. Right-leaning thinkers too-often find themselves losing the political debate to leftists who claim the moral high ground by attacking capitalism as “selfish” and promoting socialism as noble precisely because it isn’t selfish. Americans want to “do what’s right”, so if a leftist tells them that capitalism is immoral whereas socialism is moral, they’ll keep falling for leftist demagogues even though socialist ideas never work in practice.
For this reason, intellectuals on the right need to proudly and unabashedly defend capitalism as moral — not despite the fact that it allows men to pursue their self-interest but *because* it allows men to pursue their self-interest.
Ayn Rand was the first thinker to make this fully moral defense of capitalism to the American people. For our sakes, I hope she’s not the last.
(BTW, much of what I’ve said is straight from Eric Daniels’ superb lecture, “The Morality of Capitalism”.)