Acton Institute Powerblog

How Ayn Rand’s Philosophy Supports the Welfare State

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The paradox of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, James Joseph explains, is that her defense of individual freedom provides a “self-defeating apologia for the American welfare state.”

Here we have Ms Rand’s answer to the murder-fueled regimes of mid-century communism: The Individual is the sole scale of value, individual freedom is necessary to the individual survival, she says, and my survival is the sole end of my existence. Community, in this scheme of values, is entirely without meaning, or at least without objective claims upon the individual.

Rand’s reasoning has utility when arguing with Stalin, but the claims of the American state are not those of Soviet Russia – not that an American Leviathan is good, but it defends itself on different grounds. In fact, American statism’s apologia is the individual freedom so touted by Ayn Rand, complete with her denial of the claims of the community on the individual. One need look no further than the ‘Life of Julia’ campaign to see that American statism is built around the idea of highly independent, atomized individuals that cannot be bothered with claims from direct community.

‘Julia,’ a hypothetical American woman, is shown to be independent from birth to death. She needs no husband, no father or mother, no connection with adult children in her old age. None of these people are necessary to her survival and flourishing, and none of these people are obligated to her for their survival or flourishing. The ad-campaign shows that, with a bit of government help, she is more independent than anyone has ever been able to be.

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • Roger McKinney

    Does anyone still care about Rand?

    • Should they care? No. Do people still care? Sadly, yes.

      Because Paul Ryan has listed her as an influence, Rand’s name is once again a hot topic. And the second part of the Atlas Shrugged movie has just been released. Although it will likely tank (like the first one) is shows that she is still all too relevant.

  • Bill Q

    While I disagree with some important component of Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy, I think the above article misrepresents her views. She believed that human beings have no inherent obligations to one another beyond those they voluntarily accept. One accepts obligations in various ways, such as forming contracts, becoming parents, deliberately or inadvertently causing injury to others or damage to the property of others, and so forth.

    However, she did not believe that it was the function of the state to help people maintain their individualism. Rather, she argued that anything the state does — including taking money from individuals through taxation — it did by initiating force against its citizenry. Rand argued that, because individuals have no inherent obligation to one assist another, the state has no right to confiscate property from an individual in order to assist others.

    As I wrote above, I don’t agree with all of Rand’s philosophy. I do think she makes some important arguments, and I think “Atlas Shrugged” offers an interesting illustration of what might happen as a state decides to punish the wealthy for their success and essentially reward the needy based on their needs, rather than merit. I think the problem of relying on the state to create economic equality is as relevant today as it was when “Atlas Shrugged” was written. What has the “occupy” movement been other than an attempt by some to demand a share of the wealth that others have created? Here in California, businesses are fleeing the state, and the only solution being pushed is raising taxes and building trains to nowhere.

    To be fair, the book is longer than it needs to be and includes some ridiculously long monologues that no one would actually sit and listen to in the real world, it not only dismisses the obligations of marriage and suggests that people should feel free to throw out old partners and move on to better ones as one finds them, and it doesn’t explore parental obligations at all.

    There are other matters on which I disagree with Rand — her rejection of God and her opposition to morality-based law, for example. However, I think it’s a mistake to dismiss her arguments entirely when some of what she said may be more relevant today than ever.

    • Roger McKinney

      I agree, but better people have said the same things are Rand and done it much better without the godless immorality.

      Rand’s writing was technically good, but she was terrible at creating characters. And the pornography was unnecessary.

  • dogmai

    The claim that a person is more independant when they are dependant on the government for all of their needs is absurd. Clearly the author has literally NO idea about what it really means to live and act independantly, that is, by producing, not by mooching off of others, like ‘Julia’.