moral absolutes
April 14, 2011, 7:52 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , ,

I just came from a second hand book shop where two men – a father and son, maybe – in baseball caps and tees, blew into the back room where the fiction is to find a copy of the Fountainhead.  They were on a mission.

Six months ago on the L line I managed to restrain myself from tearing a copy of Atlas Shrugged out of the hands of a young reader.  My plan was to enact a teachable moment:  selfishness is good, I have selfishly taken your book, live with it.  It’s a missed opportunity that I have added to my list of life’s regrets.

Twenty years – more – ago I got into the habit of asking the book buyer at the campus bookstore where I had summer jobs, which book to read next.  When I asked her about Rand, she said, with a tight smile, “if you’re a 12 year old boy.”

It’s amazing how this adolescent, ideological, bitter crackpot fully captured the imagination of a nation and an age.  The clearest route to her current influence is no doubt through men like Greenspan and Friedman who brought her with them in their ascent to top posts in academia and government.  In their age – which may now be waning – cynicism and moral clarity were easy sells.

Jonathan Chait summarizes the Randian world view in this paragraph from his essay Wealthcare in TNR.  In this crazy world the rich are being punished by the rest of society who, by a moral law of the world, have failed to succeed in their own lives and deserve their fates.  It’s grace-less and harsh and, more to the point, absurd, a moralistic and ignorant fantasy.

Here is the paragraph from Wealthcare:

In these disparate comments we can see the outlines of a coherent view of society. It expresses its opposition to redistribution not in practical terms–that taking from the rich harms the economy–but in moral absolutes, that taking from the rich is wrong. It likewise glorifies selfishness as a virtue. It denies any basis, other than raw force, for using government to reduce economic inequality. It holds people completely responsible for their own success or failure, and thus concludes that when government helps the disadvantaged, it consequently punishes virtue and rewards sloth. And it indulges the hopeful prospect that the rich will revolt against their ill treatment by going on strike, simultaneously punishing the inferiors who have exploited them while teaching them the folly of their ways.

WealthcareJonathan Chait, The New Republic

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