Defects in Ayn Rand's Theory

Ayn Rand and Democracy

Ayn Rand gave a very different concept of freedom that usually runs against commonly held beliefs. Normally when we hear about the Federal Reserve in the United States we hear that it is a good organisation that regulates the banking system from going into a speculative spiral. But Rand says that it actually leads to financial crises by imposing useless regulations. Similarly, Rand says that the Food and Drug Administration hinders the well being and health of citizens instead of improving them as we usually believe! The same goes for the new deal or the civil rights act and so on. One would be amazed that an ideology that appears so extreme actually gained so much traction. The reason is that Ayn Rand gives some very valid criticisms of the duality of many people moralising on one side and the same people succumbing to the same 'selfishness' and 'indulgences' that they criticise. More practically she tried to answer the defects in the modern polity and decision-making system. She tried to find a solution to the situation where people who dominate society try to subjugate and enslave others through false moralising and imposing rigidity.

We usually see various lobbies and pressure groups pulling the legislature and the executive in various directions. We see gullible politicians, who speak something and do something else once in power, getting manipulated into pleasing these various pressurisers with the outcome being a paradoxical and labyrinthine set of laws and rules. License Raj as we call in India represented such an example of executive overreach. These, in turn, hinder and many times cripple the functioning of those aspects of social life that they are supposed to enable.

The solution that Rand gives is to not make any rules or laws at all! She goes on to say that there is no such thing as society! Rand observed that the suffering and backwardness of humans arose from the imposition of arbitrary rules and laws that benefit some people and due to violent reactions against those who violated them. Rand had much hopes in “voluntary” unions of people and in particular markets and corporations. What Rand found good about these things is that anybody, the workers, the shareholders and so on could walk away at any moment from the organisation but still, they voluntarily stayed and worked together because they found it best in their rational self-interest to cooperate.

Since people are voluntarily cooperating with each other and these voluntary organisations have no violence (at least Rand assumes so), they ought to be the core of human activity. The role of the state should be that of a security guard. For example, in an apartment complex, the security guards guard the people within and also prevent people from attacking each other within the apartments. But the guards have no authority to tell the people in the apartments what to do and what not to do. Thus Rand asks for the separation of state and the economy (and also the withdrawal of the state from the social sphere too actually) which means that the legislative capacity of the state should be severely limited. Just like how the present constitutions and courts prevent the state and government from infringing on freedom of speech or life, similarly, she asks for a very strict constitution that limits the power of the state to just enforcing agreements that people enter into voluntarily and preserving law and order. No law should dictate the kinds of agreements that can take place.

Democracy - solution to corruption and violence

We at MOSDEM find that by denying the existence of society itself, actually Rand herself ignores reality. Although her concern with executive excesses and arbitrariness of decision making in the modern polity is correct, she jolts to an extreme approach negating the outcomes and products of thousands of generations of human experience. Instead, we contend that excesses of government (or executive) should be reigned in by proper laws and their correct implementation, curtailing executive overreach. As for the laws themselves, to remove the arbitrariness and influence of vested interests on the polity and lawmaking MOSDEM simply proposes to move in the direction that we have been moving all along since the last couple of hundred years – more democracy!

Democracy does not mean mob rule as Rand so dismissively puts it. The mob cannot be prevented from dominating others by a set of holy laws and constitution book given by Gods (or founding fathers) to be implemented by force and violence, or at gunpoint in her own language. Instead, the crux of democracy is cooperative decision making and implementation for the survival and development of the whole group – it applies to a family, to an organisation, to a corporation, to any association or union and to the whole society itself. MOSDEM points out that conflicting and oppressive laws or 'policy paralysis' can be remedied simply by following the people's mandate! We need political parties to put forward the exact laws and amendments they are going to enact before the people and to compel the parties to enact those drafts exactly as they promised in their manifesto, nothing more or less. This not only makes the entire polity run according to the direction that people give it but also solves the problem of vested interests and lobbies ruining the decision making process and browbeating elected leaders into following their agenda.

We place the ultimate authority not in a mystic God or a leader or a party, not even in a holy constitution as Rand wants, but in the people. Not just in theory as we have now, where the parties promise people every five years only to tread on those very promises the very next day after elections, but in actual practice.

Why we want this and not the extreme position that Rand proposes should be explored in detail in later articles.

Read part 2 'here'


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