In a recent column for Townhall.com, Mike Adams urges people to read Ayn Rand’s fiction. In the course of the column, which is well worth reading, Adams notes almost as an aside:
As a Christian, I reject a good bit of what Ayn Rand has to say. She defends capitalism eloquently but fails to understand exactly why it works better than socialism or communism. That reason, of course, is rooted in the Judeo-Christian idea of man as a fallen being. Man, by nature, is desirous of competition. He must try to best his neighbor and, therefore, cannot function in a system based on the idea of taking from each according to his ability and giving to each according to his need.
Obviously I agree with Adams that people should read Rand’s fiction. But I think his column illustrates why it’s so valuable to read her non-fiction as well. Because it turns out that Rand does not “fail to understand” that the success of capitalism “is rooted in the Judeo-Christian idea of man as a fallen being.” Rather she considers that notion and rejects it.
In the essay “Conservatism: An Obituary,” in her book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Rand labels the “fallen man” argument “the argument from depravity.”
This argument runs as follows: since men are weak, fallible, non-omniscient and innately depraved, no man may be entrusted with the responsibility of being a dictator and of ruling everybody else; therefore, a free society is the proper way of life for imperfect creatures. Please grasp fully the implications of this argument: since men are depraved, they are not good enough for a dictatorship; freedom is all that they deserve; if they were perfect, they would be worthy of a totalitarian state.
Conservatives, she continues:
concede that socialism is the ideal, but human nature is unworthy of it; after which, they invite men to crusade for capitalism—a crusade one would have to start by spitting in one’s own face. Who will fight and die to defend his status as a miserable sinner? If, as a result of such theories, people become contemptuous of “conservatism,” do not wonder and do not ascribe it to the cleverness of the socialists.
That strikes me as a devastating analysis—particularly when you contrast the argument from depravity with Rand’s own argument for capitalism. From the same essay:
If you want to want to fight for capitalism, there is only one type of argument that you should adopt, the only one that can ever win in a moral issue: the argument from self-esteem. This means: the argument from man’s right to exist—from man’s inalienable individual right to his own life.
So, here’s my question for Adams and other conservatives: How would you respond to Rand’s analysis of the argument from depravity?