Bryan Caplan  

Rand on Totalitarian Motives

Some Notes from Haidt... The Speculator of Last Resort...
Ayn Rand's verdict on totalitarian motives* is remarkably similar to mine.  From Galt's Speech:
[I]f the ravages wrought by their acts have not made them question their doctrines, if they profess to be moved by love, yet are not deterred by piles of human corpses, it is because the truth about their souls is worse than the obscene excuse you have allowed them, the excuse that the end justifies the means and that the horrors they practice are means to nobler ends. The truth is that those horrors are their ends.
It's tempting to dismiss this as Randian hyperbole.  But consider: As a young Russian intellectual growing up during the Russian Revolution, Rand had a lot of first-hand experience with sanguinary Russian radicals.  She knew how they thought.  Indeed, the first edition of We The Living shows that Rand actually fell under their influence.  When the Communist Andrei says, "I know what you're going to say.  You're going to say, as so many of our enemies do, that you admire our ideals, but loathe our methods," the Randian Kira responds: "I loathe your ideals.  I admire your methods."  Kira then continues:
"I don't know, however, whether I'd include blood in my methods."

"Why not?  Anyone can sacrifice his own life for an idea.  How many know the devotion that makes you capable of sacrificing other lives?"

She looked at him.  She said slowly, simply:

"I've never thought of that.  Perhaps you're right."
P.S. Like Tyler Cowen, I was a teenage Dostoyevsky fan.  Unlike Tyler, though, I don't "find it hard to go back and enjoy things at lower levels than I did before."  I know that many of my juvenile favorites were wrong on important points, but I still have fun re-reading them.  See e.g. my book club on For a New Liberty.

* Rand says "mystics" rather than "totalitarians," but her use of the term "mystics" is idiosyncratic.  Context strongly suggests that she sees modern totalitarianism as a leading example of "mysticism."

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (2 to date)
Ryan Langrill writes:

I think it is in The Virtue of Selfishness; she lays out her historiography as the interplay between the 'mystics of might,' the 'mystics of mind' (I think those are her words) and the forces of reason. Here she probably means the mystics of might, so pretty much consistent with your interpretation. I didn't know she was that consistent in her language, though.

Mike Rulle writes:

How little did I realize reading Dostoyevsky (or as Tyler prefers--Dostoyevsky/Garnett, Dostoyevsky/Hogarth, etc.) was a post adolescent growth phase. I too spent my early 20s writing a masters thesis centered on the Brothers Karamazov, The Possessed, and The Diary of a Writer. I recently re-read The Possessed (actually a fine example of Tyler's translation point: also called The Nihilists,The Demons, The Devils----somehow I get the point regardless of the translation). My reaction to re-reading him 35 years later is how universal and unchanging human nature is-----particularly with regard to our illusion of moral progress.

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