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Chait vs. Rand

I can't think of anything particularly funny or trenchant to say about Jon Chait's devastating essay on Ayn Rand and Objectivism. It falls into that too-good-to-blog category, where it says everything that should be said, and does so more gracefully than any summary could replicate. You should read it.

By Ezra Klein  |  September 14, 2009; 3:37 PM ET
 
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Comments

Not Chait vs. Rand. More like Chait tries to understand Rand, but fails.

Major strawmen in there, but I'm sure they look plenty real to you, Ezra.

Posted by: whoisjohngaltcom | September 14, 2009 4:23 PM | Report abuse

A devastating analysis of Rand, particularly of her writing style, by Claudia Roth Pierpoint, appeared some years ago in the New Yorker magazine. A somewhat attenuated version was later published by Ms Roth in the collection Passionate Minds.

Posted by: harold3 | September 14, 2009 4:45 PM | Report abuse

"Alan Greenspan, a cherished Rand confidant, signed a letter eschewing any future contact with Branden or his wife."

WTF? This cult behavior is completely unacceptable. As a rule, I'm willing to forgive past incidents in someone's life, but this is just straight up loon.

Posted by: amarcionek | September 14, 2009 5:07 PM | Report abuse

Shorter Galtroid: fapfapfapfapfap.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | September 14, 2009 9:01 PM | Report abuse

@whoisjohngaltcom,

Well, this is the internet and this is a blog. So you have the opportunity to contest the facts as presented by Mr. Chait. Please do, as aside from reading her Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, I don't know much about Rand.

Posted by: Dollared | September 15, 2009 12:32 AM | Report abuse

Dollared, this is the first time I've commented here, but as far as I can tell, whoisjohngaltcom never actually attempts to make an argument. He just snidely asserts that everyone else (especially Ezra) is wrong and never explains why.

Posted by: tagimaucia | September 15, 2009 8:31 AM | Report abuse

"...but in moral absolutes, that taking from the rich is wrong. It likewise glorifies selfishness as a virtue."

Errrr....."taking" from anyone is simply wrong. And it's not 'selfishness' to wish to keep what is yours.

Social engineering by means of stealing from one group to give to another by force because you think they are more worthy should not be a function of government.

Posted by: WrongfulDeath | September 15, 2009 9:02 AM | Report abuse

Chait's "essay" is only "devastating" if one doesn't know much about Rand.

Brian Doherty at Reason makes the essential case about what Chait's done. Chait has conflated the ramblings of some of the Left's favorite righty targets with the ideas and principles that Rand espoused. That's dishonest and stupid.

Of course, I looked at the first two sentences of Chait's essay and reached the same conclusion. For instance, Chait apparently doesn't know what "florid" means. And what's "an actual idea", as opposed to an ordinary one?

Chait is a moron.

Posted by: msoja | September 15, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse

It kind of seems like Chait, and those linking to him, are engaging in some trolling-for-blog-hits. This is the typical article that will flood the comments section with the howls of outraged Randroids and snarky reactions from those who enjoy snarking at Objectivist outrage.

Posted by: constans | September 15, 2009 10:04 AM | Report abuse

Rand is a lightning rod since she addresses some of the most contentious issues of our times.

Her serious personal faults don't tell us much about her ideas generally (how are they relevant?), but it was interesting and meaningful to find out she stiffed relatives in Chicago for a loan and then claimed no one helped her. I hadn't heard that one.

I think the modern challenge, met by only a few, is to be able to appreciate the truths grasped by those who think differently than you, and not be a mere ideolouge. This is the human challenge. Do we really have to be 70 years old to be able to do that?

Posted by: HalHorvath | September 15, 2009 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Once you get into the phase where you're saying that an ideologue or ideology has "some" good ideas, you've already conceded that the philosophy/ideology is mostly crap. Because all ideologies that hold some non-negligible level of currency among the public have some truths embedded in them. Of course they do. If they didn't, hardly anyone at all would be interested in them. The question is whether overall the ideology itself is a valid one or useful one.

"He/She made some good points" is just the empty defense of someone who's watched their favorite philosopher get eviscerated. If someone didn't make any good points, we wouldn't have heard of him or his philosophy in the first place. There are much more important issues to grapple with.

Posted by: constans | September 15, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

The fact that you found this article very compelling, Ezra, does much to diminish your supposed wunderkind status.

There is far to much equivalence in comparison of work/effort, too much emphasis on luck (a real phenomena that is far overused as a crutch for the weak arguments of the left), and too little emphasis on wisdom.

WORK: All work is not equal, a point the author completely ignores. There is high value work and low value work. At its most simple level, high value work is work that has high demand, and limited supply (few are able to do the work). Low value work is work that is either in low demand, or for which supply is high (work many can perform with limited training). To equate the work of a manual laborer and a brain surgeon is a mistake often associated with ... (well, I won't say it, but you know where I was going).

LUCK. As for luck, is absolutely is a factor. But it is the exception, not the rule.

WISDOM. What the author (and you apparently) fails to recognize is the effect of wise decision making. Big decisions, made early in life, have catastrophic consequences later. I'd argue the impact of such decisions is far greater than work ethic or luck. Decisions to not study, pick a particular major in college, not wear a condom, steal a car, are all made in our young (and stupid) years, and determine much of how our lives unfold, and how our earnings develop.

Many objectivists, capitalists, and other successful people deeply resent it when those who made bad choices hold out their hands expecting payment from those who made wise choices (and paid the dues associated with those choices).

Personal responsibility, if not dead, appears to be on its last legs, ever eroding under a tidal wave of entitlement mentality.

Posted by: WEW72 | September 15, 2009 3:56 PM | Report abuse

"Personal responsibility, if not dead, appears to be on its last legs, ever eroding under a tidal wave of entitlement mentality."

Apocalyptic thinking indeed.

Posted by: phase66 | September 15, 2009 6:01 PM | Report abuse

Cries of hyperbole coming from the left..snicker. And do you deny that the populace's embrace of personal responsibility is lower than than 10, 20, or 30 years ago? "Safety nets" lead to expectations of safety nets. That is true for everyday people, and enormous money-center banks. Just because its apocalyptic doesn't make it false.

Posted by: WEW72 | September 15, 2009 6:06 PM | Report abuse

And just because you're a paranoid loon doesn't mean they aren't out to get you I guess.

Objectivism is a just a rationalization for screwing people over. Always has been.

Posted by: phase66 | September 16, 2009 1:19 AM | Report abuse

""Many objectivists, capitalists, and other successful people deeply resent it when those who made bad choices hold out their hands expecting payment from those who made wise choices""

That's kind of weird, actually. I cannot imagine resenting anyone for having basic health coverage that gave them access to basic services and insulated them from the costs of serious problems. I can't imagine resenting anyone for having a basic roof over their head, either. None of my ambition, work ethic, or good decisions were focused on trying to "earn" my way into the basics of a civil society. In fact, I did those things because I wanted *more* than that.

If anything, the origins of Randianism are not simply about resentment, but also a certain amount of small-mindedness and LACK of ambition: what little they have and what little they've accomplished is only valuable as long as they can ensure that everyone else has much, much less.

I don't need to see people die in a gutter or get bankrupted from health care costs just to confirm my own good decisionmaking prowess.

Posted by: tyromania | September 16, 2009 9:03 AM | Report abuse

The resentment isn't from someone "having" something, its from someone "demanding" something, from someone else. "Gimme."

Posted by: WEW72 | September 16, 2009 10:17 AM | Report abuse

WEW72, when those things are a health care system that works and a decent school system, I'm pretty sure that these are not the things that you should have had the wisdom at 18 to have made good decisions to have access to. But that's the thing, isn't it? You don't want a safety net because you need people to be failures to convince yourself that you're a success. It's why Ayn Rand is most popular among the merely average and above average. Rand and Objectivism appeal to people who need someone to look down upon.

Posted by: tyromania | September 16, 2009 11:59 PM | Report abuse

You really don't get it. Rand aficionados don't need someone to look down on. We just want to be left relatively alone by the "mob" and the government. Perhaps that evidences a lack of compassion and selfishness. But lack of compassion and selfishness is NOT the same thing as enjoying the suffering of others, which is the jump you and many re-distributionists seem be be making.

Most objectivists fervently hope that everyone would act rationally, and enjoy the resulting successes. And if there is one area in which I don't mind a little extra government spending, it would be in the area of helping people make good decisions early in life, so they can be as productive as possible.

There is an old statement that liberals are interested with fairness, and conservatives (or at least libertarians) are interested in liberty. The later category very much fits with Rand. It's absolutely true that objectivists don't care a whit about fairness (and consider any such standard a contrivance). That is not the same thing as sadism.

Posted by: WEW72 | September 17, 2009 10:31 AM | Report abuse

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