The Ayn Rand Institute received a $1 million government loan, Reuters reported. The Russian-American author decried government dependence and championed self-reliance and entrepreneurship. However, Rand’s philosophy often championed self-reliance.
According to Reuters, a federally funded loan program designed to aid small businesses saw at least one surprising recipient. “The institute promoting the ‘laissez-faire capitalism’ of writer Ayn Rand […] was approved for a Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) loan of up to $1 million,” the article said.
“The Ayn Rand Institute: The Center for the Advancement of Objectivism in Santa Ana, California, sought to preserve 35 jobs with the PPP funding. The institute referred Reuters to a May 15 article, in which board member Harry Binswanger and senior fellow Onkar Ghate wrote that the organization would take any relief money offered by the CARES Act.”
Ayn Rand, the Russian-American novelist whose work includes The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, employed a philosophy in her fiction and nonfiction that promoted individualism and unfettered capitalism, denouncing government involvement in virtually every aspect of life.
Libertarianism and Objectivism
Ayn Rand’s beliefs often aligned with those of modern libertarianism.
“Libertarians come in two major clans—economists and philosophers,” said Dr. Lawrence Cahoone, Professor of Philosophy at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. “Economist libertarians typically argue for maximum individual liberty and minimal government interference through a utilitarian economic argument—in other words, that free markets bring the greatest utility or benefit to society.
“Philosophical libertarians have prominently been ethical, natural rights theorists, claiming that capitalism is morally required independent of its consequences.”
Similarly, Ayn Rand’s philosophy—which is called objectivism—is rooted in humanity’s need to survive, which she said is rooted in self-dependence. Dr. Cahoone said that there is an objective standard of value, an objective ethics, in her beliefs, and that “rights” are how those ethics are applied in society.
“Note that rights are primarily not to own things,” he said. “They are a right to one’s own self and own life, which yields rights to pursue interests and purposes. But on that basis, property rights—which are the rights to use, enjoy, or dispose of something—are essential.”
A Skeptic’s View of Altruism
Rand’s emphasis on self-reliance came with the unconventional cost of disavowing the idea of charity, which most of society—whether right or wrong—accepts as a virtue.
“Rand hates altruism,” Dr. Cahoone said. “That is, she hates the tendency to first take as the ultimate moral standard the effects or benefits of my acts on other people. And second, she hates the belief that the highest moral act is self-sacrifice.”
Rand believed that if people are precious, then by extension, their egoistic purposes and freedoms were precious. Therefore, selfishness is a virtue. This belief is called “rational selfishness,” which Dr. Cahoone defined as a belief in which “selfishness is a moral duty.”
“So capitalism, for her, is the only moral and rational socioeconomic system in human history. She endorses laissez-faire; no government activity whose aim is more than to protect individuals and their property is just. She wanted a voluntary system of taxation, among mere provision of military and police.”
Although this may seem at odds with the Ayn Rand Institute accepting a loan from the federal government, the group said in a statement that it was accepting the million-dollar PPP loan “unapologetically, because the principle here is justice.”
Dr. Lawrence Cahoone contributed to this article. Dr. Cahoone is Professor of Philosophy at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, where he has taught since 2000. He holds a PhD in Philosophy from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.