Ayn Rand on the Rights of Man

The Virtue of Selfishness, by Ayn Rand, first published in 1964

Here is my commentary on Ayn Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness that forms the nucleus of my latest Podcast, which discusses at length Rand’s views on the rights of man.


From The Virtue of Selfishness, by Ayn Rand: “Every political system is based on some code of ethics. The dominant ethics of mankind’s history were variants of the altruist-collectivist doctrine which subordinated the individual to some higher authority, either mystical or social. Consequently, most political systems were variants of the same statist tyranny, differing only in degree, not in basic principle, limited only by the accidents of tradition, of chaos, of bloody strife and periodic collapse. Under all such systems, morality was a code applicable to the individual, but not to society. Society was placed outside the moral law, as its embodiment or source or exclusive interpreter—and the inculcation of self-sacrificial devotion to social duty was regarded as the main purpose of ethics in man’s earthly existence.

Today, cultural and political elites, particularly on the left, see themselves as above the law. Is it any wonder then that we seem to have a two-tiered justice system, one for Democrats and their allies, and another for the rest of us. We live in a country where people like Gen. Mike Flynn are convicted of crimes, and Hillary Clinton, credibly accused of several crimes, crimes that are similar to ones people have been put in jail for, like the mishandling of classified information, remain free.

Rand continues:

Since there is no such entity as ‘society,’ since society is only a number of individual men, this meant, in practice, that the rulers of society were exempt from moral law; subject only to traditional rituals, they held total power and exacted blind obedience—on the implicit principle of: ‘The good is that which is good for society (or for the tribe, the race, the nation), and the ruler’s edicts are its voice on earth.”

That last statement encapsulates the basic collectivist ethos. These examples of collectives represent a whole range of systems, not just socialism, but fascism, and Cultural Marxism as well. All claim to be for the “greater good”. Is it the greater good though, or simply the whims of the elites within each group?

Here are some historical examples Rand gives to provide context:

This was true of all statist systems, under all variants of the altruist-collectivist ethics, mystical or social. ‘The Divine Right of Kings’ summarizes the political theory of the first— ‘Vox populi, vox dei’ of the second. As witness: the theocracy of Egypt, with the Pharaoh as an embodied god—the unlimited majority rule or democracy of Athens—the welfare state run by the Emperors of Rome—the Inquisition of the late Middle Ages—the absolute monarchy of France—the welfare state of Bismarck’s Prussia—the gas chambers of Nazi Germany—the slaughterhouse of the Soviet Union.”

In summary, Rand saw collectivism in all its forms as an impediment to human rights. Society cannot be the basis therefore of rights, since society is merely a collection of individuals, and so the only proper rights are individual rights. When we base rights on what is good for society, that begs the question: Who speaks for society? Throughout history, such people who claim to speak for society inevitably turn out to be tyrants. You have a few, even a single person, deciding what is good for the people. Rand thought that people ought to decide for themselves, based upon rational self-interest.

While on the subject of rational self-interest, John Locke had this to say:

“Any single man must judge for himself whether circumstances warrant obedience or resistance to the commands of the civil magistrate; we are all qualified, entitled, and morally obliged to evaluate the conduct of our rulers. This political judgment, moreover, is not simply or primarily a right, but like self-preservation, a duty to God. As such it is a judgment that men cannot part with according to the God of Nature. It is the first and foremost of our inalienable rights without which we can preserve no other.” ~ John Locke

(No good essay on the rights of man is complete without a quote from the great John Locke.)

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