I finished reading Ayn Rand’s book Atlas Shrugged and thought I’d write a post on my initial response. This was my introduction to Rand so I had no preconceptions about her going into the book. When I shared a quote from the book on my Facebook page, I learned that there are some who don’t like her. I was told that I should not quote her because she’s a horrible person who hates humanity. This made me more curious, because in my reading, I had not come across anything that would lead to such a conclusion.
I think the complaint about Rand’s philosophy is that she promotes a life of selfishness. And I would agree that she advances this idea in the book. However, I don’t think she means what many people mean when they use that word. In fact, her choice of the word “selfish” is deliberate and is an example of the hyperbolic nature of this book. Ms. Rand is trying to make a point and trying to get others to hear her point and to accomplish this she states her case in exaggerated terms; this is a time-honored literary technique.
I don’t think Rand was against charity or “serving humanity” as long as such flows from free choice. What she opposes is the government’s use of its policing power (the power of brute force) to take the benefits of one’s innovation and hard work and give it to others for the sake of equity. She is opposed to government inserting itself into the natural processes of freedom of exchange to protect certain industries from the onslaught of innovation or by using funds taken from others (taxes) to advance its own version of innovation (what some refer to as “crony capitalism”).
Ms. Rand promotes the idea that the free exchange of goods one has created through innovation and hard work for the goods of others—also created from their innovation and hard work—is a moral good. Contrary to the popular notion that money is evil, Ms. Rand argues that money is a means of exchanging goods and is virtuous. The alternative to this free exchange is to acquire goods by theft or by making others feel guilty for their achievement.
As I mentioned, I think Ms. Rand overstates her case. I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt when I say I think she is doing so deliberately as an exercise in hyperbole. Some of the dialogue in the book, if taken literally, could lead one to believe Ms. Rand is opposed to any form of moral obligation to serve others. I don’t think she was saying that.
As a Christian, I understand the greatest moral law is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27, ESV). We have a moral obligation to serve and love our fellow man. But, does this translate into a moral obligation for government to force others to do the same?
What has this to do with leadership?
Leaders are innovators and creators of new solutions for problems both great and small. Government over-regulation diminishes a society’s ability to enjoy the fruits of leadership. Also, by distributing to those who have not worked for it, the goods of those who have, it crushes the incentive to become a leader and traps people into a life of dependency and poverty of mind and means. When a moral obligation which God intended to flow from the heart is turned into government compulsion, it becomes immoral.
Greg Waddell provides consulting services for churches and organizations. Contact Dr. Waddell today at gregwaddell[at]leadstrategic.com to discuss the needs of your organization.