Bryan Caplan  

Rand vs. Human Weakness

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I didn't want to goad Krugman by quoting Ayn Rand against him.  So I waited for one day to pass.  This passage from Galt's speech is one of Rand's best:
"It's only human," you cry in defense of any depravity, reaching the stage of self-abasement where you seek to make the concept "human" mean the weakling, the fool, the rotter, the liar, the failure, the coward, the fraud, and to exile from the human race the hero, the thinker, the producer, the inventor, the strong, the purposeful, the pure--as if "to feel" were human, but to think were not, as if to fail were human, but to succeed were not, as if corruption were human, but virtue were not--as if the premise of death were proper to man, but the premise of life were not.
I'd rather make the same point with humor rather than anger.  But unseemly anger doesn't make you wrong.


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The author at Samizdata.net in a related article titled Samizdata quote of the day writes:
    Via Bryan Caplan at EconLog: "It's only human," you cry in defense of any depravity, reaching the stage of self-abasement where you seek to make the concept "human" mean the weakling, the fool, the rotter, the liar, the failure, the coward, the fraud, ... [Tracked on February 16, 2012 7:48 AM]
COMMENTS (10 to date)
joeftansey writes:

Can't human beings be both? :(

Pat writes:

If that prose is her best, I sure would hate to read her worst.

I couldn't get through Atlas Shrugged. Agreeing with most of a writer's philosphy doesn't neccessarily make the novel readable.

Rick Hull writes:

Pat,

For what it's worth, I found Rogoff and Reinhart's This Time is Different to be a great cure for insomnia. Nevertheless, I wouldn't bother to level such facile criticism unless it served a larger point.

RPLong writes:
Can't human beings be both? :(

"...Our spirits subdivided into sorry Hemispheres..."

Rick Hull writes:

joeftansey,

> Can't human beings be both?

Yes, I think this what Rand is saying. It's our capability for rational thought that allows us to mitigate our foibles. It's the denial of such that inspired her response.

Joe Cushing writes:

I found This Time is Different to be a real drag too. I also didn't learn what I hoped to learn from it--how to spot a this time is different situation. Atlas shrugged was also a disappointment but I didn't find it a drag. Both were audio-books for me. I don't know if that makes a difference. For This Time, it was hard to follow in Audio.

Atlas was a disappointment because I thought it would be a story about something plausible. It wasn't. I'd like to read a story that explains how we could go from where we are today to a totalitarian state, using the powers (not authority) gained by the executive branch to date and guessing what powers would come next. For example, although it is illegal, the executive branch has the power to kill anyone it wants to as long as the president says the person is a terrorist. We know this because Obama has done it and he has not faced any charges. In such a novel, the president would use this power to assassinate adversaries. They don't have to actually be terrorists; the president or his administration, just has to say they are terrorists. Sense there is no trial, nobody knows and most believe him. Those who don't believe him, fear him. Adversaries who don't fear him get taken out. There are hundreds of other evil powers that could be used that I don't even know about. That's what I want the novel to do, to educate me about a plausible process of turning the US into an evil dictatorship.

KenF writes:

Atlas Shrugged is YA literature. They didn't have that category back when it was published. That's where some of the confusion comes in, when adults try to read it and find it disappointing. I know books like the Twilight series give YA literature a bad name, but I recommend Hunger Games, especially the first two books in the series.

A.West writes:

Bryan,
Good connection, and it is a perfect description of how Krugman and his socialist ilk, as well as Christians view humanity. Atlas Shrugged is a great novel containing brilliant philsophy. I find that most people, by their middle ages, have so compromized their moral standards, or so wholly adopted conventional ethics and religion, that they cannot bear to read the book, as it would force a wholesale revaluation of their life's judgements.

People I know who lived in collectivist/statist regimes found the book extremely plausible, a perfect explanation of the suffering they lived through.

Daniel Barnes writes:

The quote is standard Utopian blather, based on Rand's highly romanticised - even schoolgirlish - notions about human nature rather than the facts of the matter. Krugman's a flinty-eyed realist compared to this wittering.

AlanDownunder writes:

You do know that amagi actually means freedom as in jubilee, debt forgiveness rather than "solve your own problems even if we're the cause of them"?

Before any more Randian romantics tattoo themselves with cunieform for what they would least wish to express, you really ought to let on.

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