Economics 101

What Is Objectivism?

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Ed. Note: This is the next post in a series on Ayn Rand, adapted from Dr. Kotter’s larger research paper on Rand’s life, work, and philosophy. 

“Miss Rand, could you give the essence of your philosophy while standing on one foot?” was the question posed at a 1957 publisher sales conference.

Her concise response was illuminating:

Metaphysics: objective reality. Epistemology: reason. Ethics: self-interest. Politics: capitalism.

Rand’s ideal world would be populated by people holding these convictions as part of a full philosophical system – Objectivism – guiding the course of life.

Each conviction is worth briefly examining in light of biblical truth.

The Nature of Reality

Ayn Rand understood reality as existing as an objective absolute. Her writings are punctuated with such statements as “A is A,” “Nature must be obeyed,” and “Facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.”

From this perspective, the task of man’s consciousness is “to perceive reality, not to create or invent it.”

This stands opposed to relativism or any attempt by individuals to create their own reality. Objectivism unnecessarily extends this position to reject any belief in the supernatural or “mystical.”

Otherwise it is generally consistent with a biblical understanding that God has formed an objective universe independent of the perception of observers. Since God the Creator is everywhere and aware of everything, the stability of objective reality is assured.

The Source of Knowledge & Truth: Reason

Ayn Rand argued that man is competent to know reality and rejected any skepticism which held that objective reality cannot be known by any individual. Rand also vociferously opposed all religions as “mysticism” for accepting faith, feeling, or revelation as a means of knowledge.

Rand’s high estimation of human beings agrees with a biblical perspective regarding the faculty of human reason, especially the abstract reasoning which leads to philosophical and ethical contemplation. Indeed, this is one of the aspects which sets human beings apart from all other living things in creation.

On the other hand, the Bible recognizes that human reason has been marred by sin and is no longer an infallible guide to perceiving the objective world.

Further, the Bible contends that in specific cases, revelation directly from God is a valid means for human beings to acquire knowledge about themselves and the world. The Bible itself is the most important collection of such revelation.

Ethics: Self-Interest

Ayn Rand used the terms “selfishness” and “self-interest” both proudly and interchangeably in her writing, and she understands selfishness to be a great virtue. She argues that every man must live for his own sake and for his rational self-interest: “the achievement of his own happiness is man’s highest moral purpose.”

How does this line up with scripture?

  • Jesus would appeal to the self-interest of his hearers, but unlike Rand, such self-interest operates in an eternal framework.
  • The heart of the gospel itself is the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ for sinners, and this serves as an example for all believers to sacrifice for others.
  • Beyond a certain point self-interest becomes sinful selfishness and greed.

Politics: Capitalism

Objectivist thought holds to the basic social principle that men must live together as “traders” who give and receive value by free, mutual consent toward mutual benefit.

Rand argues that no person or group has the right to initiate the use of physical force against others, but only in self-defense against those who might initiate violence. Since communism and socialism require coercion, the only social system that bars physical force from human relationships is laissez-faire capitalism.

In other words, without money for exchange — force decides.

Thus Objectivism stands opposed to collectivism in all its forms, especially fascism, socialism, or any other government redistribution of wealth. In Rand’s world, the only function of the government is to protect the rights of individuals from those who initiate the use of physical force, whether domestic criminals or foreign invaders.

This overlaps with a biblical perspective in some ways. Consider the following:

  • One of the key biblical roles of government is to function as an agent of God, approving of those who do good and carrying out the wrath of God on the wrongdoer (Romans 13:1-7).
  • Further, the concept of individual property rights is affirmed in Exodus 20:15 where stealing is prohibited; in Exodus 20:17, even coveting the property of another person is forbidden. The inviolability of real estate is also upheld by prohibitions against moving boundary markers. This principle is so important that even the personal property of an enemy should be returned.
  • Also, the Bible is clear that men were created for work even before sin entered the world. Christians are enjoined to work heartily in the workplace as for the Lord and not for men (Colossians 3:23).
  • Ayn Rand might have enthusiastically agreed with the biblical injunction against idleness and mandate for able people to “work quietly and to earn their own living” (2 Thessalonians 3:12).
  • Finally, the Bible commends trading between people for mutual benefit and earning a profit from honest work. Proverbs 14:23  states, “In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.”

This is a brief overview of Objectivism that I will expand upon in the next and final post in this series.

How else does Rand’s philosophy compare or contrast with Scripture? Leave your comments here.  

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