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Image of Rand on the Middle East

By

First published in The Libertarian Forum, December 1971.

The neo-Randian weekly newspaper Ergo has given us a detailed account of Miss Rand’s answers during a question period following her annual Ford Hall Forum speech in Boston (Ergo, Oct. 31) Rand’s remarks on the Middle East are a chilling revelation of her lack of knowledge of the concrete facts of reality, as well as a grievous betrayal of her own oft-proclaimed libertarian moral principles.

Asked what the American people and the government should do about the Middle East war. Rand answered unhesitatingly: “Give every help possible to Israel.” Not American soldiers, she conceded; but military weapons. We need not stress here the assault on liberty involved when the U.S. government taxes Americans in order to send arms abroad; surely, this is as statist and immoral, though not to the same degree, as sending American soldiers to the Middle East. As for the American people, Miss Rand sounds for all the world like the United Jewish Appeal: “Give everything you can” (Give till it hurts?). Reaffirming her supposed and longtime opposition to altruism. Rand added that “this is the first time I have contributed” to public causes, but now apparently we have a vital exception.

Why? What is the overriding cause for which we must set aside libertarian principle, isolationist principle, and opposition to altruism; why is Israel’s “emergency” to be a claim on our hearts and pockets? Given Miss Rand’s militant atheism, it surely could not be the necessity for the reestablishment of the Temple, or the fulfillment of the old prayer, “next year in Jerusalem”; given her professed individualism, it surely could not be (one hopes) the Zionist call to blood, race, and soil. So what is it? Russia is of course dragged in, but even Miss Rand concedes that the Russian Threat is not the real issue here.

The real issue? Because “civilized men” are “fighting against savages”, and when that happens, says Rand, “then you have to be on the side of that civilized man no matter what he is.” The fact that Israel is socialistic, she adds, pales into insignificance before this great imperative.

There are two grave problems here: of the facts of reality, and of moral principle. Factually, what does Miss Rand mean by “savages”? Once work through the emotional connotations of the term, and the concept becomes a vague one. She explains that the Arabs are “primitive” and “nomads.” Here she betrays total ignorance of Palestine and its history. The only “nomads” in the region are not the Palestinian Arabs, who were driven out of their lands and homes by the Zionists, but the Jordanian Bedouins, who as hirelings of King Hussein are in effect anti-Palestinian and pro-Israel. Palestinian Arabs were not nomads but agriculturalists; long before Israel, they “made the desert bloom.” The “nomad” theory was convenient Zionist propaganda, and nothing more. Perhaps the Palestinian Arabs are “savages” because they live miserable lives in hovels on the desert; but they do so because—one and a half million of them—they were driven out of their homes and properties by the Zionists, and they remain in dire poverty as refugees. Miss Rand’s strictures are chillingly reminiscent of the English who drove the Irish out of their farms and lands by force, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and then looked down their noses at the “wild, savage” Irishmen who unaccountably spent their lives wandering around the forests.

Miss Rand asks herself the question: why are the Arabs against Israel? Unbelievably, she answers that they resent Israel because they are “savages” who “just do not want to use their minds”; deliberately choosing not to use their minds, they resent the superior technology and civilization of the Zionists. Surely this is the oddest explanation for Arab resentment ever penned. For what Miss Rand omits from the discussion is the one-and-half million Palestinian Arabs driven out of their homes and lands by force, to which were latter added another half-million ruled by Zionist conquerors. A crucial omission indeed! Where is the Palestinian refugee problem in Miss Rand’s attempt at explanation? Blankout!

This brings us to the even more important moral question: namely, assuming that one can really define “savagery”, what’s wrong with being a “savage”? Isn’t a nomad or a savage, a person? Doesn’t he therefore possess inslianable rights? Isn’t he to be allowed to own his own person and his property? What happened to the great libertarian principle, to which Miss Rand presumably adheres, of no initiation of force against another person? If savages are people, what is the justification for initiating force against them? Or are we to amend the great libertarian axiom to read: No one is allowed to initiate force against the person or property of another, except if he be civilized and the other a savage? But then we are on murky and dangerous ground. What if Group A is a bit more “civilized”, and Group B a bit more “savage”; is it therefore legitimate and moral for A to attack and rob B? I am sorry to say that this is fascist ethical theory, and that therefore in this respect the many charges about Randianism being “fascist” seems to have a certain core of truth.

And yet Miss Rand says it; without going into the rights or wrongs of the case, of the aggression or the property rights or the liberty involved, she states flatly: “When you have civilized man fighting against savages, then you have to be on the side of that civilized man no matter what he is.” But surely, on any of her own apparent criteria, Soviet Russia, highly technically developed, is then far more “civilized” than, say, Mongolia. Does that mean that if Russia were to attack and sweep into Mongolia that we would all be honor bound to cheer for the Russians, and even to kick in our dollars for the great cause? And if not, why not?

Murray N. Rothbard (1926–1995) was dean of the Austrian School, founder of modern libertarianism, and academic vice president of the Mises Institute. He was also editor – with Lew Rockwell – of The Rothbard-Rockwell Report, and appointed Lew as his literary executor. See his books.

Copyright © 2014 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit and a live link are provided.


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I enjoy Rand's writing and many of her ideas. I really do. I'm not too familiar with her positions and ideas in the Middle East and the context of her quotes above. But I agree with the author: her comments appear blindingly contradictory to some of the tenets of Objectivism. And those of us who know Rand's ideas know that contradictions do not exist. Even giving her the benefit of the doubt that she lacks knowledge, her comments do appear to be a "betrayal."

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philosophy/objectivismc_prompt

My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.

My philosophy, Objectivism, holds that:

  1. Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.
  2. Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses) is man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.
  3. Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.
  4. The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. The government acts only as a policeman that protects man’s rights; it uses physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use, such as criminals or foreign invaders. In a system of full capitalism, there should be (but, historically, has not yet been) a complete separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.

- Ayn Rand