A Liberal Ayn Rand
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The Immigration Debate
by The Editors | April 17, 2017
Charlie Hebdo Two Years Later: Will America Continue to Protect Free Speech?
by Steve Simpson | January 07, 2017
Free Speech Is a Right, Not a Political Weapon
by Steve Simpson | December 06, 2016
One Small Step for Dictatorship: The Significance of Donald Trump’s Election
by Onkar Ghate | November 17, 2016
Overturning Citizens United Would Be a Disaster for Free Speech
by Steve Simpson | September 06, 2016
New Book: Defending Free Speech
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Defending Free Speech
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How U.S. Attorneys General Are Like Chinese Censors
by Steve Simpson | July 01, 2016
Standing up for Free Speech
by The Editors | June 17, 2016
Is the First Amendment Enough?
by Steve Simpson | March 22, 2016
Free Speech Under Siege
by Steve Simpson | March 25, 2015
Freedom of Speech or Tyranny of Silence?
by The Editors | January 21, 2015
Free Speech and the Battle for Western Culture
by Yaron Brook | January 21, 2015
Freedom of Speech: We Will Not Cower
by Onkar Ghate | January 07, 2015
Gutting the First Amendment
by Steve Simpson | July 17, 2014
The Myth about Ayn Rand and Social Security
by Onkar Ghate | June 19, 2014
The Campaign Finance Monster That Refuses to Die
by Steve Simpson | June 11, 2014
The “End the Debt Draft” Campaign
by Don Watkins | March 18, 2014
End the debt draft
by Don Watkins | March 13, 2014
Abortion Rights Are Pro-life
by Leonard Peikoff | January 23, 2013
A Liberal Ayn Rand?
by Onkar Ghate | November 02, 2012
Ryan, Rand and Rights
by Don Watkins | August 17, 2012
Repairing Lochner’s Reputation: An Adventure In Historical Revisionism
by Tom Bowden | Fall 2011
Why Should Business Leaders Care about Intellectual Property? — Ayn Rand’s Radical Argument
by Adam Mossoff | November 30, 2010
Elena Kagan: Could She Defend the Constitution’s Purpose?
by Tom Bowden | July 20, 2010
Capitalism: Who Needs It — Ayn Rand and the American System
by Yaron Brook | June 09, 2010
Were the Founding Fathers Media Socialists?
by Don Watkins | March 01, 2010
Justice Holmes and the Empty Constitution
by Tom Bowden | Summer 2009
Nationalization Is Theft
by Tom Bowden | November 07, 2008
Supreme Disappointments
by Tom Bowden | November 03, 2008
Deep-Six the Law of the Sea
by Tom Bowden | November 20, 2007
After Ten Years, States Still Resist Assisted Suicide
by Tom Bowden | November 02, 2007
No Right to “Free” Health Care
by Onkar Ghate | June 11, 2007
The Rise and Fall of Property Rights in America
by Adam Mossoff | May 16, 2007
Free Speech and the Danish Cartoons, a Panel Discussion
by Yaron Brook | April 11, 2006
The Fear to Speak Comes to America’s Shores
by Onkar Ghate | April 04, 2006
The Twilight of Freedom of Speech
by Onkar Ghate | February 21, 2006
The Cartoon Jihad: Free Speech in the Balance
by Christian Beenfeldt | February 10, 2006
The Faith-Based Attack on Rational Government
by Tom Bowden | June 27, 2005
Supreme Court Should Uphold Rights, Not Majority Sentiment in Ten Commandments Cases
by Tom Bowden | February 23, 2005
Campaign Finance Reform Attacks Victims of Corruption
by Onkar Ghate | December 26, 2003
Thought Control
by Onkar Ghate | April 22, 2003
A Supreme Court Overview
by Tom Bowden | January 01, 2000
Blacklists Are Not Censorship
by Tom Bowden | March 23, 1999
Health Care is Not a Right
by Leonard Peikoff | December 11, 1993
The Age of Mediocrity
by Ayn Rand | April 26, 1981
Censorship: Local and Express
by Ayn Rand | October 21, 1973
A Nation’s Unity
by Ayn Rand | October 22, 1972
Of Living Death
by Ayn Rand | December 08, 1968
The Wreckage of the Consensus
by Ayn Rand | April 16, 1967
Racism
by Ayn Rand | September 1963
POV: Man’s Rights; The Nature of Government
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A Liberal Ayn Rand?

by Onkar Ghate | November 02, 2012 | Huffington Post

It’s no secret that the right is awash in Ayn Rand. Tea Partiers carry signs like “Who is John Galt?” and, astonishing for a novel published 55 years ago, sales of Atlas Shrugged topped 445,000 last year.

All of this has prompted researchers like Yale historian Beverly Gage to wonder, “Why is there no liberal Ayn Rand?” Good question. Liberals today, Gage observes, have no long-term goals or vision, no big ideas, no canon.

Here’s a radical thought. Instead of liberals dismissing Rand’s appeal to the American spirit of individualism and independence, as President Obama recently did in his Rolling Stone interview, why don’t liberals make Rand part of a new canon? Why let conservatives monopolize her?

Rand herself I suspect would have welcomed this. In a talk in Boston in 1961, she lamented the fact that both liberals and conservatives were ideologically bankrupt, with too many liberals turning sympathetically to unlimited government and too many conservatives turning back to the Middle Ages. She was seeking to address, she said, “the ‘non-totalitarian liberals’ and the ‘non-traditional conservatives'” in the audience.

Her message that night was the need for a principled, uncompromising fight for a moral ideal she thought long abandoned by both sides, the rights of the individual. This means life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness: your moral right to follow your own reasoned judgment in earning your way in the world and achieving your happiness.

Religious conservatives like Paul Ryan have to distance themselves from Rand’s philosophy. Theirs is an inconsistent position. Ryan, for instance, wants to be seen as an advocate of individual rights while simultaneously making a mockery of a woman’s right to the pursuit of happiness by proposing to force her to bring a pregnancy to term even in the case of rape.

Rand rejects such medievalism. Precisely because raising a child is a personal and immense undertaking, a woman must have the freedom to judge whether and when to have children. To equate an embryo with a human being, a potential with the actual, and then to declare the willful ending of a pregnancy murder, is to abandon reason and science in favor of mystical Church dogmas. No government, Rand argued, should have the power to dictate to a woman in such matters; it’s her life and her decision.

The same principle — the individual’s moral right to his own life — put Rand on the side of other supposedly liberal causes: she was a staunch defender of free speech and immigration and a staunch opponent of racism. But this very principle led Rand to reject what too many liberal-leaning people seemingly dare not even question: the modern regulatory-welfare state.

What in the end is the regulatory-welfare state but a massive and growing attempt to override our reasoned choices and decisions: to dictate to us whose permission we must obtain to drive a taxi or serve alcohol in a restaurant, what questions we’re allowed to ask in a job interview, whose health care we must pay for and in what way, how much we must “save” for retirement (which the government then proceeds to spend), and on and on and on.

Take the case of but one regulatory agency, the FDA. The FDA wasn’t created to outlaw fraud, which was already illegal. It exists to tell us which drugs we can buy, companies which drugs they can sell, how those drugs must be tested and how manufactured. What if people rationally disagree with the government’s dictates? What if a company thinks it has developed a better way of testing for efficacy or an unconventional but superior manufacturing process? What if a patient is willing to risk known and even unknown side effects because of the unusual severity of his disease? If the decision about abortion should be left to a woman (in consultation with her doctor), why shouldn’t these important decisions be solely between the individuals involved? Because they are economic in nature, and therefore subject to majority vote?

This is precisely one issue on which Rand challenges modern liberals: whether it’s consistent to advocate an individual’s intellectual and personal liberty while denying him economic liberty.

It wasn’t always so. Liberals in the nineteenth century were champions of science and at the forefront of abolishing slavery and securing a woman’s individual rights. But they were also champions of private property, free trade and economic liberty. It is this combination that produced the individual’s unprecedented progress in that century. Modern liberals, however, abandoned the right to private property in favor of various socialistic visions, which have since faded with awareness of what socialism and communism actually wrought. The result is what Gage notes: modern liberals bereft of an ideal.

Any liberal-leaning person today who seeks long-term goals and a new vision, but will not touch the political right because of conservatives’ anti-evolution, anti-immigration, anti-abortion platforms, would do well to remember nineteenth-century liberalism. Perhaps the two alternatives confronting us, a government with virtually unlimited power to dictate our personal lives or our economic lives, are both defective.

For anyone willing to explore this possibility, I can think of no better place to start than with Ayn Rand.

About The Author

Onkar Ghate

Chief Philosophy Officer and Senior Fellow, Ayn Rand Institute