Who Would Ayn Rand Bomb?

Boy, it is not easy to make heads-or-tails of Ayn Rand and her devotees on foreign policy.

In the book Ayn Rand Nation, sloppy journalist Gary Weiss read some of Rand’s writings on war and peace, mistook her for a peacenik, and ended up asking Ayn Rand Institute board member (and soon to be president of the Cato Institute) John Allison, So why was World War II such a bad idea again? Allison sort of bumbled through an answer and said that, well, Rand had been responsible for changing his mind on Vietnam.

Yet as Jordan Bloom shows in this good American Conservative piece, Rand was both against America’s initial involvement in Vietnam and seriously bloodthirsty in her prescription for how to get out of it — which was essentially the Nixon-Kissinger position.

Rand’s take on World War II was a mix of Harry Truman’s initial let-the-Russian-German-bastards-fight-it-out position and the conspiratorial suggestion that America forced Japan to attack us.

There’s a lot more of course. Here, Bloom attempts to sum up Rand’s foreign policy pronouncements in one neat package:

Based on Rand’s own foreign policy positions, then, one is left with a narrow and exclusionary conception of the national interest; a belief that once war has begun — even under dubious pretenses — the only exit is through victory, which becomes more likely the more force is applied; and a desire to side with what she deemed advanced and civilized countries against savages, in part because the savages wantonly killed innocent women and children. On the other hand, there is no need for America to avoid killing innocents because when we are at war all the residents of the enemy country are equally legitimate targets.

Bloom then marches us through a list of horribles of the foreign policy pronouncements of current leading Objectivists. Some of these statements are certainly troubling, but I’m not sure we should read them as sober, straightforward foreign policy pontificating.

Instead, they have the ring of heroic statements of a very specific type. I mean, take a listen:

Exterminate an enemy who is trying to exterminate you!

The government should bomb the ground zero mosque out of existence!

Metaphysical survival is at stake!

Bring their culture to its knees!

To my trained ear, these sound like statements that might have been speechified by heroes of… Ayn Rand novels.

  • Nancy Wood

    Allison is getting on my last nerve, or, as Skankbiscuit Josey, the future X Mrs. Crane III (Harvard or Bust) says, “BB&T, big fucking deal, when are we going to get Ed back?” (She has not actually met Ed, she just Knows; it’s a girl thing). -Nancy

  • http://www.fuguewriter.com Michael R. Brown

    Vitriol and bile are as abundant here as reasoning and argument are lacking. We do get it: you don’t like Rand, or Allison.

    • Jeremy Lott

      Vitriol and bile? Come now. Haven’t made up my mind about Allison yet.

  • http://www.reasonpapers.com Irfan Khawaja

    You don’t have to agree with Ayn Rand’s take on specific events, policies, or strategies to work out a distinctively Objectivist take on foreign policy. I’m an Objectivist, but I reject a great deal of what Rand said about warfare and foreign policy. I’ve written hundreds of pages on the ethics of warfare and related topics from an Objectivist perspective, but none of it reads like anything written by Elan Journo, Yaron Brook, or Leonard Peikoff. There’s no reason to assume that the people associated with ARI are the only Objectivists in town (or on Earth). They’d like you to think that, no doubt, but there’s no good reason to believe them.

    Pardon me for advertising so brazenly, but as evidence of what I’ve just said, I’ve pasted my academia.edu page down below. At least half of the 27 pieces on it are on 9/11, warfare, or Islam, and it’s not an exhaustive list (neither exhaustive of my past writing, nor, obviously, exhaustive of what I’m in the middle of writing, or will write in the future). I’ve tried to write so that literate people–even Gary Weiss–can make heads or tails of what I say. It’s up to you (plural) to decide whether or I’ve succeeded, but no one could confuse what I’ve written with the stuff quoted above. But I don’t think anyone could justifiably describe it as “non-Objectivist,” either.


    • Nancy Wood

      Wow, Professor Khawaja, impressive! Did you publish before 1992; I’m trying to figure out how old you are, guessing, about 60? I have not seen a more impressive body of objectivist papers by anyone younger than sixty; that’s why I am wondering. There seems to be a cut off point; people born after 1952 apparently have not made much of a contribution to Objectivism. Rand wrote very much like diEth Wharton without the parallelisms, and in a modernist venue, which frankly floors me; the painterly beauty of her work is astounding, as literature. (It did bring me into the objectivist fold, but merely as a side effect.

    • Jeremy Lott

      Suppose I cast too broad a net above. I was referring principally to Rand herself and the ARI school of Objectivism. Sorry about that, Irfan.

  • http://www.jackseslblog.blogspot.com Jack Crawford

    Rand’s position on foreign policy isn’t much different from that on domestic policy. The government is to protect individual rights. It retaliates against the initiation of force, or threat of force, by using force. What is maybe a little harder is to apply this principle in different situations.

  • http://www.reasonpapers.com Irfan Khawaja

    Jeremy: No problem.

    Nancy: Thanks, but…ouch! 60? Um, let’s say early 40s. OK, OK, rapidly approaching mid-40s. I mean, 60 feels about as far away as…30 (which is tragically far away). I feel about 600 when I deal with 18-21 year olds, however.

    On publishing, while I am the last one to turn away a compliment (so thanks again), the truth is that there are plenty of Objectivists out there with more impressive publishing records than mine, some of them not much older than me, and some younger.

    Never thought of a Rand/Edith Wharton parallel, except for Wharton’s “False Dawn” which is in some ways a “precursor” of “The Fountainhead” (thematically, not in terms of actual influence). An interesting thought, however.

  • ND

    I created this YouTube video, which you linked to earlier.
    I’ve been following your blog posts since David Weigel’s Slate pieces began referencing them. I would comment at Slate, but to paraphrase P.G. Wodehouse, that would be like dropping a rose petal into the Grand Canyon, then listening for the echo. Following are a few of my opinions.

    First, I find it irritating when writers such as Weigel equate Peikoff’s foreign policy views with “Objectivism”. There’s considerable diversity of opinion among contemporary Objectivists on such matters, here’s a taste:
    I agree entirely with Irfan Khawaja here.

    Second, I’m inclined to take John Allison’s latest statement, the one to Cato staffers, at face value. But only time will tell. His support for Peikoff’s 2001 paper is dated, and those were very tense times. Besides, will he be empowered to make such major changes in policy at Cato? A parallel: Alan Greenspan couldn’t have shut down the Federal Reserve even if he wanted to, and he had previously written if favor of it.

    Third, I doubt you’ll be hearing from more attendees of the San Diego conference. ARI types are quite close-knit and even cult-like.

    Finally, as Ayn Rand reportedly said upon first meeting William F. Buckley, “You are much too intelligent to believe in Gott..”