December 16, 2013

"But there is a reason Ayn Rand is considered a gateway drug to the right and [Adam] Smith isn’t..."

"... the 'greed is good' ethos, whatever else may be wrong with it, is much sexier, more rebellious, and thus more appealing than staid bourgeois morality. But more to the point, it’s interesting that both [The Daily Caller's Matt] Lewis and [Andrew] Sullivan consider Smith the fons et origo of fiscal conservatism, as defined by support for capitalism. I find it interesting because it’s mistaken, albeit a mistaken belief that is held almost universally."

Mytheos Holt, writing in The American Conservative, would like you to pay more attention to Bernard Mandeville and "The Fable of the Bees."

21 comments:

Rusty said...

I consider both of them a bit of a slog. Mises and Hayek are more readable. Still the best way to understand free markets is to participate in them.

PB Reader said...

I always thought logic and reason were the gateway to the right.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Nothing wrong with The Theory of Moral Sentiments that a good rape scene wouldn't fix.

jdallen said...

Rand was a crappy writer, more readable than Smith, but still. Just a fact.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Smith isn't a 'gateway drug' because while he has some really great passages in there, he's also..... very long. And the great bits are smashed between lots of really boring bits.

For years, I kept him around as an insomnia cure. Open to a random page, start reading, and you'd be out in no time.....

Maybe a 'Best of Smith Graphic Novel' would be better....

Rusty said...

PB Reader said...
I always thought logic and reason were the gateway to the right.

They are. So is pragmatism.


Maybe a 'Best of Smith Graphic Novel' would be better....

Somebody get ahold of Stan Lee

Michael K said...

The article makes the point, and does a good job of it, that there is nothing new under the sun. Thales of Miletus is considered the first Greek philosopher. He used his knowledge of the weather to conclude that the coming growing season would be unusually good. He hired all the olive presses at a discount before anyone else realized the situation and the fortune he made from his monopoly allowed him to found the "Milesian School" in about 600 BC.

Basil said...

It's not a "greed is good" ethos. It's a "people looking out for their own self interest is good" ethos. Lefties don't read or understand Rand's work but still feel entitled to snark about it. Rand also supported, as her first principle, faith in the abilty of rational and creative man to overcome both nature and God, which one would think lefties would be all over.

The Jouornolist/Media Matters people are so tiresome. Don't they ever get tired of writing this crap?

the wolf said...

I'll take a "greed is good" ethos (if you buy that particular formulation of a conservative philosophy) over a "generosity with other people's money" ethos any day of the week.

Alex said...

This is the full speech from Gordon Gecko in context:


Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures, the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the U.S.A.[19]


Sounds like a damn fine speech to me.

gadfly said...

Wait - I am getting confused by the claim that Ayn Rand's philosophy is summed up as "Greed is Good."

If "extremism/ideological certainty should be a clarifying force that makes deals easier, not one that impedes it" and Rand has written long and well about the morality of extremism on both ends of the spectrum - how is it that the driving force of the Ayn Rand philosophy is "greed?"

Rand's moral argument for extremism as quoted by Mytheos Holt is as follows:

"When men reduce their virtues to the approximate, then evil acquires the force of an absolute, when loyalty to an unyielding purpose is dropped by the virtuous, it’s picked up by scoundrels—and you get the indecent spectacle of a cringing, bargaining, traitorous good and a self-righteously uncompromising evil."

Holt somehow misses the "reduce their virtues to the approximate" qualifier which is just another way to say that the bad guys are the morally bereft moderates - not the extremists.

Biff said...

My sense is that 90% of the articles that invoke Smith or Rand are written by people who have read neither author beyond a quick skim, at best.

Hyphenated American said...

According to liberals, "greed" is when you try to keep what you earned, and get upset when people try to take it from you at gun point. I don't see what's wrong about "greed".

Hyphenated American said...

Ayn Rand is more dangerous than Adam Smith and Hayek because she gives a strong moral foundation to the right-wing world view. It's not enough to understand why free market economy is efficient, you need to know why it morally wrong to be against free market economy.

cubanbob said...

I one is forced to choose between greed and envy, go with greed.

R.C. said...

Look, Rand was a hit-and-miss fiction writer in bad need of an editor.

And, her philosophy doesn't entirely rise to the level of qualifying; it's unaware of its own dependencies. She was deeply ignorant of whole swaths of human life. And Whittaker Chambers had her number in the observation that, wow, how come no children ever came about from all the acrobatic cavorting between the heroine of Atlas Shrugged and her three suitors? Probably some of it was in vase indebito, but in spite of Rand's heaving bosom about that kind of thing, surely not all of it?

Having said that, Rand had a few things going for her:

1. She illustrated very clearly and accurately how leftism destroys the wealth it needs for continuance, and yet uses that as an excuse to continue eating itself and everyone else;

2. She explained very effectively how leftist redistributionism is mere unjustified violence;

3. She showed very neatly how a surplus of burdensome regulation is not actually intended to protect anyone from anything, but only to make it impossible for anyone to comply, so that, should they offend the powers-that-be, they can be selectively prosecuted on a whim;

4. She brilliantly illuminated the way that large businesses are often not the enemies but the cronies of government, participating in writing the legislation in order to destroy their own competition, to pull up the ladder behind themselves once they're big enough to buy Congressmen, to replace the aristocracy of customer service with "the aristocracy of pull";

5. She indicated just how easily the poor are deceived into voting for the very leftist charlatans whose policies guarantee their own starvation, and how those charlatans often know exactly what they're doing, but find it in their own interests to keep riding the tiger of leftism, for fear of what'll happen if they let go.

Now these are five things that needed doing. Rand did them. Kudos to her.

One need not cover over her deficiencies in other areas to champion what she got right.

These days, a perceptive man's biggest reason for not voting for Democrats is because he cares for his poor neighbors, and knows he wouldn't be able to look them in the face ever again, if he stabbed them in the back that way.

There was a time when that wasn't so obvious. Rand helped make it obvious. Kudos to her, I say.

Jeff said...

Rand, Hayek, Smith, Mises. None of them are very good writers. Milton Friedman has persuaded more people of the virtues of the market economy than those four put together. Read Capitalism and Freedom if you want to see how a master does it.

The Godfather said...

My gateway drug to conservatism (and libertarianism, although it was only years later that I heard the word) was Conscience Of A Conservative, by Goldwater. Until I read that book in 1960 I thought I was a "liberal" because, having studied Latin, I thought "liberals" were those who supported freedom ("libertas"). Goldwater (or whoever his ghost-writer was) showed me that what I believed was properly called conservative.

I read Smith for credit and Rand for fun in college, but I was already hooked by then. I am convinced by experience and observation that the market economy is the greatest engine for the betterment of the greatest number of people that has ever been devised by human kind. That proof was offered by Smith (and if he cribbed from an earlier author, that's news to most of the world, including me), but I don't think anyone will ever mount the barricades to plant the banner of comparative advantage. That's where Rand and others like her come in, to make good policy a fighting faith.

Liberals have made bad policy a fighting faith for generations.

Joe said...

Extreme writers on all sides allow the reader to dismiss the obviously nutty and absurdist arguments and pick and choose the rest. The writer whatever the fan wants the author to be.

Rusty said...

R.C. and Jeff

It's good to remember that Rand wasn't an economist. The left often confuses her with one. At best she was a moral philosopher.

William Chadwick said...

You know what the worst thing about Ayn Rand was? If enough tax-serfs read her books, and get the idea that their livea and property belong to themelves, real freedom could break out!