G’Day World #345 – Alex Epstein, Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights

Ayn Rand

I’ve been a big fan of Ayn Rand‘s work since I first read “The Fountainhead” when I was about 20. I quickly read everything of hers I could get my hands on and I re-read both “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” every couple of years. I’ve wanted to do a show on her work for years.

However… this interview with Epstein was pretty disturbing. It started off okay as we talked about her work but then Alex started talking about the foreign policy of the United States and I was shocked at how extremely right-wing his views are. Rand was a huge believer in individual rights however Epstein’s view seems to be that the indigenous people of countries such as the Middle East, the Americas and Australia HAVE no rights. Personally I think the views he expounded in the latter half of the show represent the worst kind of American imperialist thinking and do NOT accurately represent Rand’s philosophy. But that’s just my opinion.

Listen and tell me your thoughts.

Alex Epstein has a BA in Philosophy from Duke University and is an analyst focusing on business issues at the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights.

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27 thoughts on “G’Day World #345 – Alex Epstein, Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights

  1. Interesting to hear someone who has absolutely no concept of the rights to live any other way other than the one that is proposed by himself. I.E. I’m right your wrong.

    That is in essence the classic colonist philosophy of the the class that sets the rules (the Ruling Class) in the earlier centuries that led to all others having no rights and that they are heathens who need to be saved for their own good. There are similarities today.

    Enter here all the atrocities that have happened in the last many centuries.

    Great to hear a red neck interviewee justifying his stance.

    Mind you now I’m truly scared.

    Thanks for giving him the rope to hang himself with Cam. It’s easy to hear you chaffing at the bit to jump down his throat. It’s important to give him the right to speak which is more than he would give the less fortunate people of the world I’m sure.

  2. Cam:

    Like you, I pull Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged off of my bookshelf every couple of years and reread them. Part of the motivation for doing so is to help me deal with perversions of her thoughts by institutions like the Ayn Rand Center and by spokesmen like Alex Epstein.

    I hate to be someone who sounds prejudiced by pointing out to a racial/religious affiliation, but could the man’s last name be an indicator of why he has such a biased view of the world? Both Christianity and Islam take numerous hits in his discussion with you, while Israel is held up as some kind of shining beacon on the hill.

    As I listened to your discussion with Alex I had to laugh out loud to keep from crying. It physically hurts to hear someone advocating the destruction of a nation of 70 million individuals. It hurts even worse when that person attempts to justify that wanton murder by claiming to be following a philosophy that puts individual rights and choices at the center of moral thought. What a racist and misanthropic view of the world!

    I was also bemused to hear Alex trying to morally justify the oil industry’s long history of exploitation of natural resources belonging to other nations. He even tried to claim that the oil companies have somehow “created” that oil. Oil companies extract what was already there, they do not create anything.

    They certainly do not limit their activities to that “newly discovered world under ground” that Alex tried to describe; their activities have a huge, negative impact on the earth’s surface and it its atmosphere. There is little justification for claiming otherwise unless your goal is merely to provide “moral” cover for the oil industry’s exploitation.

    Of course, just a cover only works to a certain degree for those people who agree with a closer and more justifiable reading of Rand.

    Thanks for sharing the interview and for giving Alex plenty of rope. I hope other people who have read Rand for themselves understand that The Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights is not an organization that deserves support or even a tax exempt status.

  3. Curious: I’ve read Fountainhead and loved it, but then I tried to read Atlas Shrugged and can’t seem to get past the first few chapters without feeling really bored. It’s been sitting on my coffee table for months. Give me some incentive here…should I give it another go and why?

  4. heh I always tell people “persist with Atlas Shrugged through the first few chapters”. It took me several goes to get through them. It’s a slow build up. It’s seriously her best novel.

  5. Rod, you think I treat Israel like a shining beacon? Not at all. I think Israel was illegitimately carved out of Palestine and only exists today because America wants a major ally in the Middle East from which they can keep the oil producing countries in a state of disarray. I don’t know, though, that Alex’s ancestry informs his opinions.

    Agree with you that his views are a perversion of Rand’s. Very sad. Like most prophets, her followers seems to have taken a wonderful philosophy, twisted it and are using it to justify their own ends.

  6. Cam:
    I am sorry for any confusion. I was referring to Alex’s comments in the discussion, not yours. He is the one who expressed unrestricted support for Israel and for the US’s continued support for that country.

  7. Oh Sorry Rod, my bad, I read it too quickly. Yeah, well the whole “Israel can do no wrong” meme is a common one in the US though, isn’t it? And not just from people with Jewish surnames. It’s like the “US can do no wrong” meme.

  8. Is the individual worth anything without the community?

    Native Indians lived in essentially communistic settings. They gave freely, they had no shame or guilt- i:e no sense of seperation. The community did not disregard the individual – far from it. That is what communism, when read properly, is ultimately about.

    The individual as part of a community.

    But the natives never read Rand or Marx.

    There is some sort of hypocrisy going on here though – we condemn religous belief because it is usually used for some selfish purpose, yet praise Rand – who produced a horrific outcome for humanity. A possible (end of the world) Environmental catastrophe, a political and social catastrophe – a nightmare for millions of people, except for those few that ‘misinterpreted’ rand for their own selfish reasons. And are now sitting pretty on the ashes of the world…

    So… can someone tell me this. Did those people really misinterpret? Or… dare I say… hold your breath now…. could it be that their is a major flaw in her philosophy…. I know, I know… shock… horror…. what will we all do now!

    btw – As Cam knows, I’m a smart alec who doesn’t like Rand at all….

    Seriously… do we really need Rand at all?

  9. It seems the Objectivist Institutes (at least in the USA) have been poisoned with Jews and Jewish doctrine disguised as Objectivist thought.

  10. Wow stunning. I hadn’t read the info on the show so was completly shocked with the views of Alex. Cameron I could hear noises in the background as he was talking I was hoping you were trying so hard not laugh out loud at the incredible tripe spewing from hisd mouth.

    I’d be suprised if he’s not a guest speaker at the next Republican Convention.

    I was a little disapointed that you didn’t have the American National anthem playing in the background as he suggested the idea we should blow the feet from the sand of Middle Eastern societies (gotta love the subtlety) because they don’t keep Factory farmed chicken in fridges and all pursue possesions like zombies in a shopping mall.

    I’d like to see him go into the middle of a tribal village and say he owns this land because they have no rights written on a piece of paper somewhere or a Wal-Mart nearby.

    I’ll stop ranting now

  11. I’m a pretty extreme on the liberty scale, I love Atlas Shrugged, but I’ve never really understood the idea that indigenous people don’t have the same rights, because they don’t think like you do. I don’t understand. It seems like he’s saying that efficiency of “production” trumps all. As it leads to greater prosperity, which you may be able to make a case for, but its irrelevant. If indigenous Americans, or Australians wanted to leave their land fallow, they have the right to tell you to go F yourself.

    As an unashamed capitalist, that concept confuses me

    -Nick

  12. I hope you now understand that that girl in New Orleans wasn’t just mouthing about the risk of showing out with the symbols of this poisonous belief system.

    Every time you bought a copy of one of Rand’s books you subsidised and endorsed what Alex was saying. If you listen to him he is constantly referring to essays written by Rand to support the positions he is taking. My encounters with this bunch have been fairly consistent with the positions Alex is taking.

    I am always happy to be proved wrong but I don’t think Alex is misrepresenting the views of Ayn Rand nor the institute. This is the stuff you have been supporting and advocating (it seems in ignorance) for a lot of years.

    Do you think there was more than a zero chance that a Naive American might have given you a blood nose for waving that book around in public? I would condemn our hypothetical outraged person for doing so but I’ve got to say I would understand what caused it and suggest you hide symbols that many see as promoting hate out of sight to promote greater peace in public places.

    I hope this might be one of those moments for Cam and a few others where a little light goes off and you think about the possibility that all those people you have encountered who told you that Rand was a bad thing to follow (and I’m sure you’ve laughed in many faces that told you that – or can you say I am wrong?) might just have been right all along.

  13. Janotte, have you ever read Rand’s work? I’m pretty sure I’ve read everything she published and I’ve NEVER read anything that reflected the extreme views Epstein presented. It’s possible that later in life she said or wrote things that were this extreme but, if so, I’ve missed them. Certainly her major works didn’t communicate these ideas.

    Do these quotes from her sound like the same person who would justify genocide?

    A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.

    Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness, not pain or mindless self-indulgence, is the proof of your moral integrity, since it is the proof and the result of your loyalty to the achievement of your values.

    Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.

    Do not ever say that the desire to “do good” by force is a good motive. Neither power-lust nor stupidity are good motives.

    Force and mind are opposites; morality ends where a gun begins.

    Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).

    The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.

  14. Yep Cameron,
    I’ve read a fair bit of Rand and I’ve debated with more than a few of the followers of Rand.

    But that’s not the point. It’s not whether you agree with me on the interpretation of Rand. You appear to be telling me that you believe you have a better understanding of the current accepted application of Rand’s work than Alex.

    From my experience with these people Alex is consistent with the accepted view of how Ayn Rand should be understood. I accept their scholarship as superior to mine in their area of expertise. Do you accept that they are superior to you?

    Here’s just one example of Alex using a direct quote from Rand:
    http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/propertyrights.html
    “Without property rights, no other rights are possible.”
    Do you agree with that statement?

    Alex then uses that statement to declare that societies without property rights as understood under US capitalism have no rights of any kind.

    Again from Rand:
    “The institution of private property, in the full, legal meaning of the term, was brought into existence only by capitalism. In the pre-capitalist eras, private property existed de facto, but not de jure, i.e., by custom and sufferance, not by right or by law. In law and in principle, all property belonged to the head of the tribe, the king, and was held only by his permission, which could be revoked at any time, at his pleasure. (The king could and did expropriate the estates of recalcitrant noblemen throughout the course of Europe’s history.)”

    So if you live in a tribal society (or any other pre-capitalist or non-capitalist society) you do not have full property rights and therefore have no rights at all of any kind.

    And again from Rand:
    “Americans have known how to erect a superlative material achievement in the midst of an untouched wilderness, against the resistance of savage tribes.”
    and
    “It was a European who discovered America, …” (quite a shock to the people living there when a European sailed into harbour to realise it was the European who ‘discovered’ the land).
    http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/america.html

    That’s the line taken through this argument by Alex. It’s taken straight from Rand’s writing. Do you agree with it as a valid reading of Rand? If not, why not?

    None of your quotes work because they assume that the victims of your hypothetical genocide have rights. As Alex has demonstrated, the current reading of Rand is that those people have no rights of any kind because they do not have ‘real’ property rights. And Rand herself described the battle against the ‘savages’ as virtuous.

    Again, don’t argue with me for highlighting what I believe the current beliefs of Rand’s followers are about what she said and meant. Argue with them. They use Rand to justify previous and future genocide. Would she have put the right if she were around?

    I don’t agree with them and I don’t agree with Rand.

    If you think you agree with Rand but disagree with her followers then you have the challenge to surpass their scholarship and propose different interpretations of what Rand’s words mean.

    Or perhaps find someone of equally standing in the Rand supporters camp to debate Alex and prove that his interpretation is not what Rand meant. Have fun with that.

    PS
    Here’s a good Rand quote for you to consider in relationship to “Geeks Who Care”.
    “Altruism is incompatible with freedom, with capitalism and with individual rights.”
    http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/america.html

  15. Janotte

    See when I read that above quote about property rights, it seems to be that she is defending the principle of property rights, not saying people who don’t already have them deserve nothing. I think she’s saying everyone deserves property rights. She’s arguing FOR rights, not saying “if you don’t already have them then… fuck you.”

    I’ll admit the “savage tribes” and “Europeans discovered” bits are horrible but she’s a product of her times. I don’t know when she wrote that, but I’m guessing is was during a time when America still had segregation in most states, so… I can’t completely condemn her for political incorrectness. Even Marx and Engels, who were most definitely on the other side of the argument to Rand, referred to primitive people as “savages”. It was just the lingo of the times.

    As for the last quote about altruism, I think I tried to cover that with Alex. There is a difference between government-forced altruism and self-interested altruism, which is what I’m into. I believe investing in the education and welfare of the people we share our cities, countries and planet with is in our long-term best interests.

    I like your idea about getting someone else on. But who!? Maybe Ron Paul now that his political campaign is at an end….

  16. From that same site you linked to, in describing her philosophy Objectivism, says:

    “It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others.”

    Not… “no man may initiate the use of physical force against others… unless they don’t own a house, then go for it.”

  17. Hi again Cam,

    How do you reconcile that namby-pamby twaddle “…no man may initiate the use of physical force against others.” with Rand’s admiration for the struggle against the ‘savages’ in North America?

    When the rubber hits the road she doesn’t support your reading of Objectivism now does she?

    ——–

    Your interpretation on those words about property rights is OK at surface level but keep thinking through the surface and into the ‘guts’.

    You live in a society without ‘property rights’. Is it OK for me to destroy that society to replace it with a society that gives you ‘property rights’ (assuming you survive the process)? If not, why not?

    If I invade your country (perhaps using “Terra nullius” as my warcry) and install a capitalist society haven’t I done you and especially your descendants, a huge favour?

    If I have the power to overthrow your society (by arms or otherwise) to give your a new one that is ‘better’ and I fail to do it am I acting morally in my negligence / apathy?

    If a few hundred / thousand / million have to die in your country now to put a better system in place that will benefit billions through the coming centuries is that a reasonable return on investment? If not, why not?

    If you think long and hard about these issues using Rand as your prime guide I submit you may well end up in the same place as Alex (who earns his daily bread thinking and talking about these ideas).

    If you can ‘own’ your conclusions without breaching a Rand principle then you have found your philosophy.

    If you decide that you must reject parts of Rand’s philosophy to reach answers that you can ‘own’ then perhaps you aren’t the fan that you thought you were.

    Anyway, enough on this. I am sure you have better things to do. I look forward to you finding someone of Alex’s standing in the pro-Rand camp who will refute what he put to you. If you can I might find the Rand position a little less disturbing.

    Peace out.

  18. Janotte… if you think I’m already 100% in alignment with Rand then you haven’t listened to my show enough!

    Just one example – Rand believed fervently in free will. I don’t believe free will exists at all.

    So I’m not the guy who EVER takes ANYTHING 100% from what others say or write. I’m always pulling shit apart.

    The “namby-pamby” part (lol) above wasn’t MY interpretation of Objectivism, those were HER words, HER definition.

    I think you’re running a bit hard with this “struggle against the natives” bit and extrapolating too much from it.

    To all of your questions above, which justify use of force, I’d say Rand would say there is no justification for using force against others unless in self-defense.

    Her whole philosophy was about protecting individual rights, not stomping on them.

    At least that’s how I read it. You and Alex obviously read something else into it. I guess it goes to show you that two (or three) people can read the same thing and extract completely different ideas from it.

  19. HI all,

    this guy has a very US centric world view and an absolutely shocking concept of “human rights”.

    How can anyone (even American) think that the USA is the greatest country in the world?? The track record of US involvement in pretty much all of the world over the last 60 years and the dire consequences is hard to ignore. The complete ignorance of human rights at Abu Graib, Guantanamo, etc and the current financial meltdown are more reasons why the American model is not the way forward.

    Thanks for getting people with different views on the show, but I think some of his points should have been attacked more.

    Best,
    Torsten

  20. Torsten, I was just in shock when I had him on. It was like watching a car crash in slow motion. It took all of my energy not just to yell out “WHAAAT???!” I thought I’d just let him get it all out and we could dissect it later.

  21. “Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.”

    Hi Cam… I’ve just been reading your back and forth between you and Janotte – can you give me your interpretation of the above quote.

    Also, there are so many contradictions in Rands philosophy… i just don’t get it. I mean, I don’t get how you can criticize the Bible, because I could pull all the good stuff out of that book, and do a lot of good with it, or pull out all the bad stuff and do bad stuff with it… same with Rand. So, how can you justify your Bible criticism?

    I could propose the arguement that Rands bad stuff has produced untold horror – more than the Bible, I would even propose that the Bible lead to Rand.

    I can justify my criticism of the Bible and Rand because I don’t think we need either of those books at all – well, ok, at least I don’t!

    If you can give me a decent argument as to why we still need most of these ancient books – I’m all ears buddy ; ) – personally, nowadays I try to only listen to people who are alive now.

  22. Marcelo, I’m not sure I find anything particularly wrong or offensive with that quote apart from the term “savage” which is, of course, politically incorrect these days but in her day was quite common (the term is used frequently in the writing of Marx and Engels, eg). Surely she’s right in saying that a civilized society is one where the individual has the right to privacy and control over his or her own actions and life choices. In less civilized societies, you have less rights.

    You say there’s a lot of contradictions or bad stuff in her work but you haven’t said what. There is a big difference, though, between a work of fiction presenting a philosophy and which is treated as such (eg Rand) versus a work of obvious fiction treated as FACT and BIBLICAL TRUTH such as the Bible. No-one (not even Epstein!) is suggesting Rand was a god. 🙂

    Human libraries are full of works suggesting how we should live together. We’re rarely going to agree with everything an author says. But Rand never (afaik) advocated violence or intolerance, unlike the Bible.

  23. Nah man… I’m not offended by the term savage, I have no problem in being called that at all. But I’ll have to respond tomorrow as I’m about to go bear hunting : )

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