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Ayn Rand: the dogma of selfishness and the new Industrial Relations laws

Solomon Wakeling is a regular Webdiarist, and has so far submitted his reviews of classic novels, the most recent being East of Eden: in defence of Cathy Trask.

by Solomon Wakeling

Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead is one heck of a right-wing propaganda piece. Next to Dostoyevsky's The Possessed it is possibly the best right-wing novel ever produced. It should be read as a companion piece and de-tox from The Communist Manifesto . It should also be read with caution. I came away from reading it with an unwell feeling. I had something like the moral horror Camus intended for the reader to feel in reading The Outsider . The book is alien and unnerving at times, bordering on the surreal. I read it when I was 17 and I wish I hadn't. Propaganda does harm to supple young minds.

The central character is Howard Roark, a rebellious but gifted architect. Rand uses a likeable archetype, the struggling artist, to peg her philosophy on. Roark is sketched as an orange-haired outsider, with cat-like movements and a relaxed demeanour. His attitude to the world is uncompromising and rebellious, which makes him instantly likeable. He is a creative type, ambitious only in the furtherance of his art. He doesn't give a damn for anything else. What more could you want?

Roark's style of art resembles modern architecture but it is something subtly different. He likes to create buildings as expressions of perfection - perfection like the "ideal man". Rand intended Roark as an expression of this "Ideal man". He is so perfect, in her eyes, that the female heroine is gratified when he rapes her. This scene occurs towards the end of the book and it is a shocker. If it weren't for the heroine’s masochistic acceptance of his attentions, the book would be utterly unreadable. Rand's rape fantasy is unnecessary, juvenile and dangerous. That she felt the need to include it shows the depths of the poison of her mind. Just as, in Rand's words, A is A, rape is rape and should not be tolerated.

Rand would be no friend to the right-wing Christian governments we see in the USA, Britain and Australia. Her ideology is far beyond the realms of the politically correct which these governments comfortably swim in. Her belief in the virtue of selfishness would be hard for our governments to stomach. A more complete inversion of the teachings of Christ could not be imagined. Our governments only go so far as to want to reward ambition, not selfishness. Selfishness as a goal is softened with Christian piety - yet the belief in the individual survives the rift. The belief in free market capitalism also survives the rift.

Howard lives endlessly on in Australian politics in part because of the Family tax benefit. Rand had no time for families. Early in The Fountainhead Roark is, with a somewhat unintentional humour, said not to know if he has any family. It is a matter of complete indifference to him. Rand saw human relations as burdensome in contrast to individual liberation. Co-operation is bad. Community is to be discouraged.

The best line in the book comes at the end of part II when Roark is asked what he thinks of socialist Ellsworth M. Toohey. He replies "But I don't think of you". Nothing in the book so aptly represents Roark's, and Rand's, character. Rather than seeking to change others she wants only for them to leave her alone. She is not anti-social so much as asocial. Her paradise, sketched in her other great work, Atlas Shrugged , resembles a Buddhist monastery or an Amish retreat. It is a place where the rich and intelligent hide from the world, in rebellion, to let it fall apart without them. Her ideology is the ideology of just not giving a damn for the fate of the world and focusing on yourself. In my view there is enough of this type of attitude in the world already and it doesn't need propagandising.

This is the kind of work that makes you want to read Ulysses , just to see life painted in all its confusion, its vulnerability and its complexity. It has the same deadening effect of total sureties and repetition, present in all dogmas. Blissfully arrogant, Rand assures us that A is A and that her ideas can be deduced by simple reason. Man is an end in himself, there for his own glory. Free market capitalism is the perfect system of governance and collectivism is the devil. All this as sure as black and white, light and dark, day and night. Her work is just dogma, dogma, dogma...And is as ultimately as boring as them all.

At its best, individualism is about the dignity of the individual and facilitating individual self-expression. Laws are needed to protect the vulnerable. Rand wanted total non-interference, ignoring entrenched disadvantage and the need for positive governance to correct this. She saw individuals as totally equal in power. With the new industrial relations laws we see the government following her in this fantasy, treating individuals as having the same level, or indeed more, of bargaining power than employers. In trying to liberate the individual in to being able to negotiate their own contracts, the government is creating the possibility of exploitation and coercion. An individual may become a slave to a corporation as easily as they may become a slave to governance. An effective federalism will be one where power is shared, without excess weight placed on any one individual or group. I support capitalism but not corporate-fascism. Checks and balances like unfair dismissal laws, award wages and minimum working conditions are effective methods of separating power within our society. They should not be seen as restricting individual freedom but as facilitating it.

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Church and state

Rob Wearne, I'm a church-goer myself and I've no doubt that churches play an important role in society. Though a lot of their charitable work centres around evangelism, which, though essential from their point-of-view, is somewhat self-serving. I also believe that it is proper and good that social services be administered by the state, funded by revenue collected from society as a whole; Even church-based charities often seek government funding, or, alternatively, tax-breaks to keep them operating. I don't think its practicable to remove this function of the state, if for no other reason that the revenue base isn't likely to be there in the private sphere.

I also worry that church-based welfare may have strings attached. That's not pure fantasy, I've heard cases where conversion has been a pre-requisite to gaining help. The beauty of state-based welfare is that there is none of that kind of coercion.

I'm not majoritarian in my attitude to democracy; I think the majority supports mandatory detention, offshore processing and turning refugee boats away, however I think majority rule should be tempered with law - human rights law, or otherwise. I also think the majority supported the Iraq war, but that this was in violation of what should be International law. Democracy is valuable but not if it amounts to the rule of the majority over minorities.

I do think governments have a role to play in regulating business, but the best method of doing that is to do what we do now, dispersing power to independent commissions to administer the laws.

Anyway, thank you for your comments. Obviously you have much to say and your comments so far only scratch the surface.

Obvectivists, Libertarians, Democracy and Society

Solomon, as a paleo-libertarian I find Ayn Rands Objectivist philosophy a fairly simplistic defence of liberalism and her ‘doctrine of selfishness’ at odds with many within the libertarian community notwithstanding their and my own belief that voluntary arrangements in relation commerce and social protections are preferable.

Although I agree with you that individuals are not equal in power and that prima facie government mandated solutions may assist those that are genuinely needy the issue is at what cost are these programs provided? In this regard the negative externalities from a social and economic perspective are rarely taken to account.

This is not to say that I or many other libertarians do not believe in supporting charitable endeavours/institutions or community. Far from it - however I do believe that it is morally wrong for a government to stipulate how or how much we provide to do this.

Although it is generally not fashionable on Webdiary to point out the positive influence of the churches, despite some of their faults they have through the provision of charity been an overall positive influence on our society. At least the provision of social services through the churches and other private providers (minimum income support for instance) avoids the rights based mentality so endemic within the state based welfare system.

Although slightly off topic my support of most religions especially in regard to those that provide social services is that they provide competition to the state (which though the bureaucracy is inherently more costly) and thus act as somewhat of bulwark against its despotic tendencies.

Notwithstanding that some other Webdiary contributors may have more ecclesiastical reasons to support organised religions it is ironic to see the widespread mockery in Webdiary of religion despite the ‘worship’ of democracy and the ‘faith’ that if people were just a bit more democratic and secular we would be living in a utopia.

One only has to look at the failure of government in the management of foreign policy, mental and general health, welfare, infrastructure, pushing the failed policy of multi-culturalism and the growth of the police state to belay the myth of democracy as a panacea.

The Objectivist philosophy which you pointed out correctly is largely silent or inimicable as to the value of the family is also a poor proxy for a criticism of a libertarian approach to family considering the worsening rates of divorce and fatherless families due to the state devaluing the worth of the marriage contract.

Although your mention of corporate fascism hits the mark, this problem has come about because the politicians have too much power – not because they have not protected us from the market.

The granting of monopolies, corporate welfare and the growth of the military industrial complex in the United States and Australia is a result of the centralisation of power concomitant with the death of constitutional representation and the growth of democratic absolutism.

Thomas Paine was right...

“Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best stage, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one”.

Democratic absolutism will end up being the same as any other tyranny. We are well on the way to having Paine‘s Intolerable Evil due to too much government and not enough society - welcome to the welfare/warfare state.


Hi Ernest William, I've known Craig on Webdiary for a long time now and I've long respected his detailed and analytical approach to the issues - it seemed to me for a little while that that was missing, so I thought I ought to say something. I've since been convinced by his engagement on the Middle East threads that he is back in form.

Fiona, that should have

Fiona, that should have been "foremost". I wish I could find the quote. I'm not sure she was even that subtle. The impression I got was that she meant she was the greatest philosopher ever. It was so blatant. But I guess we all think our own ideas are excellent. But a philosopher should know better. A perfectionist especially should. She should, should, should.

Oh, and that should have been Aynimus Possessed. Interesting that Solomon mentioned The Possessed in the first second sentence. Almost like a Freudian slip.

Aynimous Possessed

Solomon, In Jungian terms, I think Ayn Rand could be described as animus possessed. Indeed, I would say the rape scene in the book is akin to what her inner man was doing to her 24/7.

I saw a documentary about her where she was interviewed and she declared that she was the world's formost philosopher. Sometimes I think this blog needs those yellow emotion widget icon face thingies...

Jaw Dropping.


I am intrigued, Martin. Was "formost" carefully selected, or a slight error in orthography? Either way, the point (assuming that one may use such an expression in this context) is well made.

Workers Party

He called his party "The Workers Party" and  it was based on a libertarian philosophy which is not quite what Rand was advocating.

If you can get hold of a book called "Rip Van Australia", which was co-authored by John Singleton and Bob Howard, you will get a fair background as to what underpinned Singleton's thinking at the time.

I think it was in this book that Singleton said:

  " Malcolm Fraser admires Ayn Rand and Ayn Rand admires Malcolm Fraser which just goes to show that neither knows what the other is talking about".

One of my all-time favourite quotes as far as summing up political insights is concerned.

Weren't Ayn Rand's works

Weren't Ayn Rand's works the basis of John Singleton's short-lived political party?  (I can't remember what it was called, but one of its slogans was along the lines of "taxation is theft").


Craig Rowley, What's happened to you? You used to be cool and analytical, focusing on the issues. You've become a merciless Howard-hater, focused on populist causes. Remember, hate is destructive!

Chris Saliba, she's definately a page-turner. I have tried to be fair to her. I think she is a gifted writer but a poor philosopher.

Michael Xavier, A certainly is A. The thing is, I like Ayn Rand. I find her philosophy interesting, even though I may not agree with all of it. I found her critique of Marxism actually very powerful. Atlas Shrugged is not unlike Animal Farm or Brave New World as critiques of totalitarianist regimes.

No hate for the man

Solomon, I hold no hate for the man - John Howard.  What I dislike (with a reasonable intensity) is the hypocrisy of his positions on an increasing number of issues. And the displays of hubris.

It is apparent to me that, increasingly, he has decided on important national and international issues from something akin to the viewpoint that "Man is an end in himself, there for his own glory." 

You know they say that ego soon runs into the hubris that undermines the best thought-out strategies. That is my take on the Howard Government's ruthless pursuit of a radical transformation in industrial relations in this fourth term when nary a word was said about it in the lead up to Election 2004. If that election was about "trust" as he said (again and again), why didn't he trust voters to back his IR ideology? Why didn't he put it there, front and centre, as the key issue for that election?

And my first comment was to highlight how John Howard's hubris is on display in other ways. How else do you explain the term four world tour, that which others described as his victory lap? 

Sometimes, emotion is the only indication that someone is alive.

I keep saying - "Wake up Australia". I like the articles I have read by young Solomon and I believe that he has misinterpreted your article. I for one do not believe that you are a Howard-hater but, it is possible that one day, that title may be worn with honour. Solomon also writes without "I read it in the Telegraph". His perception and reasoning appeals to me as indeed, does yours. You have stated in just a few lines, unbiased probity and submissions which, are far more acceptable to the majority of Australians than those "opinions" which are paid for by the Howard Liberals. To both you and Solomon I suggest that, it is part of the U.S. Karl Rove methods, to concentrate hatred on one area alone to form a false common bond. This provides an easy target to attack. This also applies when a corrupt Corporation's Media suggests that ONE person should be "adored" and makes it easy to defend just ONE target. The absolute mismanagements and incompetencies of the Federal Liberals are not accepted as "stopping the buck" at Howard. No Sir, it is passed on to the Public Servants who obey orders and happen to work in the Ministry which has stuffed things yet again. A simple fact is avoided by the venal media - the people of Australia do not elect John Howard. The Liberals and Nationals who the people do elect - choose Howard as their leader. So when you elect a Liberal, or National, no matter how blatantly "roboted" he or she may be, THEY are responsible for the actions and megalomaniac behaviour of that person. Your vote can only select ONE "stone in the pyramid". The "fuhrer" (leader) of our Nation, is then decided by them. Please keep reasoning.

How A is not A

I read both books, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, and came away with a different perspective, particularly in regards the latter. Atlas Shrugged was a deeply philosophical book woven into a  compelling story.

The dialogues covering "The Moral Meaning of Money" and the story of the 20th Century Motor Company which embodied the moral imperative of "from each according to his ability to each according to his need" are worth getting the book for them alone.

Maybe Solomon might like to explain how A is not A if that is one of his criticisms of the book.

Begging Pardon

Twas Solomon who uttered the quote, not Craig.

Both gentlemen, I'm sure, would agree that with the blurring of previously well-defined governance boundaries between government, religion and business, it's going to be interesting to see the new outline to the shape of society's controllers. 

Are we to see, as we are in Iraq, corporations moving labour forces into locales to reduce labour price?  Bet on it.   When you're working for five bucks an hour you won't be able to afford to.

Atlas Shrugged

I read Atlas Shrugged a few years ago out of interest. The Fountainhead was an inspiration to lipstick queen Poppy King (if I remember correctly an interview I read years ago.)

Despite being at odds with the material, the narrative really kept me going through its one thousand pages. She sure had a gift for writing page turners. But all of her supermen and women seemed strangely self-pitying to me. It seemed the only tax payer funded service she wanted was a police force to protect people's money.

Remember when they referenced Atlas Shrugged on South Park?

Officer Barbrady: Yes, at first I was happy to be learning how to read. It seemed exciting and magical, but then I read this: Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. I read every last word of this garbage, and because of this piece of s***, I am never reading again.

A bit harsh I thought. She deserves to be read, even though we live and pray that her idea of a perfect world may never come to pass.

Winner Takes All

Craig Rowley "An individual may become a slave to a corporation as easily as they may become a slave to governance."

The trouble is doubled when governments employ corporations to implement their governance protocols.  It's more than an thin grey line when the aforementioned corporations employ our so-called champions of democracy (whether before, after or during their tenure) with partpayment  by shares that will give pollies profit if "their" companies get the contracts.  

One of my favourite Downer attempts at self-defence, when it was revealed that he had, via a third party investment fund named Argo, profited on the public float of AWB, was his disdainful claim that he invested in such a company so that he didn't need to know where his money was.   Such a statement, from a Minister who awards massive aid contracts, should be a crime in itself.  Downer could have a fair idea of where such companies might place their money (such as such a privatisation float).  He should be made to be accountable for every cent he has, and at the very least ensuring that he doesn't personally profit from his public decisions.

Doesn' it worry anyone else when a retiring Australian defence minister goes straight into a corporate consultancy?  Tenix (and sister company Transfield)  made a lot of of money from Peter Reith's Department Of Defence.  Should Reith have been allowed to take a job with them?

Don't start me on Cheney and Halliburton... how a man can be Vice President of the U.S. of A and still get an annual two hundred grand paycheck from the corporation he used to run is totally beyond my comprehension.

If Cheney can do what he pleases, so can Messrs Howard, Downer and Reith

As member of a not-too-exclusive club whose motto is "winner takes all" these bozos are going to leave us with a lot of cleaning up to do once they've taken their spoils.

Self Interest

Craig Rowley and Richard Tonkin, you forgot to mention Bob Carr who treated himself and his wife to a $100,000 holiday just before he jumped ship and joined Macquarie Bank. Have you any idea what that will be costing the taxpayers of NSW as Bob earns his salary?

Any idea how Hawke and Keating amassed the fortunes they have on the salaries the taxpayers paid them?

Greed Club

Alan Curran, as I said, the club's not too exclusive.  You certainly don't need to be a member of the Liberal party to join, or be in power at federal level.  Its board table is a trough at which many can swill, if you've got the right connections.


I sometimes wonder how John Howard reconciles his political philosophy, his ideological belief in individualism and small government, with what he does in practice.

He may say he believes in user-pays, but does the partying Prime Minister pay his own way?

Did his own pay cheques cover the chesterfield chairs?

Janette's renovations at Kirribilli House?

The expensive and expansive wine habit (and wine consultant on tap to help with it)?

The term four world tour?

I sometimes wonder about these things and then I remember - the only “little Aussie battler” Howard is interested in is himself.

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