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A is A

by on April 3, 2011

Atlas Shrugged. The back of the book describes the query of the book, “who is John Galt?” to be immortal, but it is the book itself that is timeless and immortal. Political philosophy is meant to stand the test of time, and Atlas Shrugged does that. The issues, the reality, is as poignant now as it was when the book was written. Like the characters in the book, we have a choice in the future we face. How will we face reality?
I quoted the following speech at length because in order to understand the second part I had to quote what Ayn Rand meant by the mystics of spirit and the mystics of muscle.

There are two kinds of teachers of the Morality of Death: the mystics of spirit and the mystics of muscle, whom you call the spiritualists and the materialists, those who believe in consciousness without existence and those who believe in existence without consciousness. Both demand the surrender of your mind, one to their revelations, the other to their reflexes. No matter how loudly they posture in the role of irreconcilable antagonists, their moral codes are alike, and so are their aims: in matter–the enslavement of man’s body, in spirit–the destruction of his mind.
The good, say the mystics of spirit, is God, a being whose only definition is that he is beyond man’s power to conceive–a definition that invalidates man’s consciousness and nullifies his concepts of existence. The good, say the mystics of muscle, is Society–a thing which they define as an organism that possesses no physical form, a superbeing embodied in no one in particular and everyone in general except yourself. Man’s mind, say the mystics of spirit, must be subordinated to the will of God. Man’s mind, say the mystics of muscle, must be subordinated to the will of Society. Man’s standard of value, say the mystics of spirit, is the pleasure of God, whose standards are beyond man’s comprehension and must be accepted on faith. Man’s standard of value, say the mystics of muscle, is the pleasure of Society, whose standards are beyond man’s right of judgment and must be obeyed as a primary absolute. The purpose of man’s life, say both, is to become an abject zombie who serves a purpose he does not know, for reasons he is not to question. His reward, say the mystics of spirit, will be given to him beyond the grave. His reward, say the mystics of muscle, will be given on earth–to his great-grandchildren.

Thirty pages later–pages in which the timeless question “who is John Galt?” is answered by John Galt–Ayn Rand brings the novel to the crux of her political philosophy, still speaking as John Galt.

…We will rebuild America’s system on the moral premise which had been its foundation, but which you treated as a guilty underground, in your frantic evasion of the conflict between that premise and your mystic morality: the premise that man is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others, that man’s life, his freedom, his happiness are his by inalienable right.
You who’ve lost the concept of a right, you who swing in impotent evasiveness between the claim that rights are a gift of God, a supernatural gift to be taken on faith, of the claim that rights are a gift of society, to be broken at its arbitrary whim–the source of man’s rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity. A is A–and Man is Man. Rights are conditions of existence required by man’s nature for his proper survival. If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, and it is right to act on his own free judgment, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work. If life on earth is his purpose, he has a right to live as a rational being: nature forbids him the irrational. Any group, any gang, any nation that attempts to negate man’s rights, is wrong, which means: is evil, which means: is anti-life.
Rights are a moral concept–and morality is a matter of choice. Men are free not to choose man’s survival as the standard of their morals and their laws, but not free to escape from the fact that the alternative is a cannibal society, which exists for a while by devouring its best and collapses like a cancerous body, when the healthy have been eaten by the diseased, when the rational have been consumed by the irrational. Such has been the fate of your societies in history, but you’ve evaded the knowledge of the cause….Just as man cannot live by means of the irrational, so two men cannot, or two thousand, or two billion. Just as man can’t succeed by defying reality, so a nation can’t, or a country, or a globe. A is A.

Do I agree with everything Ayn Rand argues? No. Nor should I. Nor should you. That does not lessen her argument. I hope we choose the rational way.

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From → On the Dole

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