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I am unaware of any individuals, claiming to be objectivists, who think it proper to actually seize physical assets of the government and return them to the rightful owners (as judged by them). Are there any? Additonally, if Ragnar's actions in AS were considered moral by Rand, why do objectivists seem to occupy their time on chat boards, or in meetups, or at conferences, or "educating" others, rather than raiding the governnment's coffers and re-establishing justice?

Allegedly, the character of Ragnar was motiviated to return capital to objectivists in order to restore their power, creating a just world - thereby directly benefiting him. Should Objectivists follow his lead and do something more than just work hard at their jobs and obey their government?

asked Dec 13 '13 at 14:26

MarcMercier's gravatar image

MarcMercier ♦
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edited Dec 13 '13 at 19:22

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦
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IIRC there was debate among the Strikers as to whether Danneskjold's methods were the right way to go about things or if they were too dangerous. I even think Galt was of the opinion that his methods were too dangerous. But someone please correct me on this or confirm it. The only copy I have here is an audiobook version which I can't easily search.

(Dec 13 '13 at 17:21) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Ragnar Danneskjold was reclaiming stolen property, taken from producers (businessmen) by the government, who claimed it by force (taxation). Contextually, he was not stealing anything, but taking back the alms of which the moochers had taken from those who create wealth.

(Dec 13 '13 at 22:57) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image

In a different form, the essence of this question was discussed by Ayn Rand near the end of one of the very first Objectivist articles I ever read, "Playboy's Interview with Ayn Rand" (March 1964). The heroes of Atlas Shrugged all fought their oppressors by going on strike, so Ayn Rand was asked:

Do you think the time has come for the artists, intellectuals and creative businessmen of today to withdraw their talents from society in this way?

Ayn Rand answered:

No, not yet.... What we have today is not a capitalist society, but a mixed economy -- that is, a mixture of freedom of controls, which, by the presently dominant trend, is moving toward dictatorship. The action in Atlas Shrugged takes place at a time when society has reached the stage of dictatorship. When and if this happens, it will be the time to go on strike, but not until then. [...]

A dictatorship has four characteriscics: one-party rule, executions without trial for political offenses, expropriation or nationalization of private property, and censorship. Above all, this last. So long as men can speak and write freely, so long as there is no censorship, they still have a chance to reform their society or to put it on a better road. When censorship is imposed, that is the sign that men should go on strike intellectually, by which I mean, should not cooperate with the social system in any way whatever. [...]

It is ideas that determine social trends, that create or destroy social systems. Therefore, the right ideas, the right philosophy, should be advocated and spread. The disasters of the modern world, including the destruction of capitalism, were caused by the altruist-collectivist philosophy. It is altrism that men should reject.

Ragnar, too, was a striker first and foremost, with an added twist of so-called "piracy" that was actually retribution and restitution, i.e., purely retaliatory physical force. (And, yes, the other strikers, including John Galt, considered Ragnar's approach too risky to his own safety and well being to be a wise course of action, though not morally or politically wrong.)

I didn't know it at the time, but Ayn Rand discussed the issue on another occasion two years earlier in a private letter to a fan, published 33 years later in Letters of Ayn Rand, pp. 593-594. The fan seemed to imply that expressing and defending "mere" ideas was ineffective, and that more concrete action was called for, such as Galt seeking to "stop the motor of the world." She replied to the fan, in part:

If you studied ideas more carefully, you would observe that Galt "spoke out for the truth" -- to the whole world and for three and one half hours, on the day when he achieved the possibility to do it. The political conditions presented in Atlas Shrugged are those of an almost total dictatorship. Only when a society reaches that stage is it proper for men to think of quitting. So long as a country has no censorship, it is not yet a dictatorship -- and men are free to speak and to fight for their ideas. The strike in Atlas Shrugged applies to our present-day conditions only in the following way: it is against the dominant cultural trend of our society, against its philosophy, that one should go on strike. Which means: that one should reject the basic premises of today's culture and start building a new culture on the philosophical foundation of Objectivism. Which means: that one should actively advocate the right ideas, regardless of what other people think. Which is a policy diametrically opposed to the one you suggest.

The main question states:

I am unaware of any individuals, claiming to be objectivists, who think it proper to actually seize physical assets of the government and return them to the rightful owners (as judged by them).

It's entirely proper in principle (it is retaliatory physical force), but it's too soon to do that yet, since the U.S. is not yet a dictatorship. We still have a chance to speak out, to express and defend rational ideas in defense of individualism and capitalism.

...why do objectivists seem to occupy their time on chat boards, or in meetups, or at conferences, or "educating" others....

They do it because ideas are important, an essential precondition for any subsequent concrete action. They are "speaking out for the truth" and spreading Objectivist ideas. A further way to help the spread of Objectivism is by contributing financially to organizations like The Ayn Rand Institute.

Allegedly, the character of Ragnar was motiviated[sic] to return capital to objectivists in order to restore their power, creating a just world - thereby directly benefiting him.

"Alleged" by whom? This is not an entirely accurate description of Ragnar's role in the story. Ragnar's role wasn't about power, but simply about restoring stolen property to its rightful owners -- not to make them powerful, but simply to give them back what they created, earned and deserved before the looters stole it from them. As an artistic symbol, Ragnar represents the myth of Robin Hood in reverse, thereby blasting that myth as an alleged moral ideal. The moral significance of simple justice -- returning to the rightful owners that which was theirs in the first place -- is what Atlas Shrugged seeks to highlight in the character of Ragnar. Artistically, the retaliatory use of physical force in that process is not ruled out and accentuates the fundamental justice involved.

Should Objectivists ... do something more than just work hard at their jobs and obey their government?

Certainly. They should speak out, if permitted to do so, and/or contribute financially to an organization like The Ayn Rand Institute. And obeying government dictates depends on whether or not there is a credible threat of physical force involved. A rational person, Objectivist or not, is under no moral obligation to sacrifice himself to force wielders. If he can fight, he should, if it can be done with minimal risk to himself; if he can flee, that's an option, too. If it makes sense to "go on strike," that is similar to fleeing. Objectivists should resist, in any non-sacrificial way they can, the idea that they have a moral duty to obey an improper government -- such as by speaking out against it, if they are free to do so, and by not aiding and abetting it nor even complying with it at all, if they are free not to do so.

It is also important to note that any retaliatory use of physical force, when or if a dictatorship is established, would need to be accompanied by a clearly stated and explained philosophical position. Otherwise, the force will most likely be seen as nothing more than a power grab by a "vested selfish interest," provoking counter force by the general population and/or government authorities, if they are strong enough to overpower the freedom fighters. Today, they are still strong enough (and we aren't in a dictatorship yet). And the Objectivist philosophical perspective has barely begun to penetrate the general culture; far more still needs to be done intellectually in order for eventual concrete action to have a chance of succeeding. And if awareness of Objectivism and support for it does become increasingly more prevalent in the culture, there probably will be ample opportunities to reform the system from within rather than trying to overthrow it by direct physical force.

answered Dec 14 '13 at 03:25

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦
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edited Dec 14 '13 at 03:26

It is now over 50 years since Rand assessed that the United States was not at the stage of "nearly a dictatorship". We have moved aggressively towards dictatorship ever since - exponentially in the most recent 10 years. The Strikers did not wait for a dictatorship to exist before acting. Galt took action a decade (or more) BEFORE the government arrived at Directive 10-289. Even after they enacted it one could reasonably argue that a pure dictatorship did not exist. Objectivists do not require acceptance by "the culture" before establishing a world they deserve. That is the entire point of AS.

(Dec 19 '13 at 11:23) MarcMercier ♦ MarcMercier's gravatar image

The Strikers did not wait for a dictatorship to exist before acting. Galt took action a decade (or more) BEFORE the government arrived at Directive 10-289.

He did wait until after Directive 10-289 to announce his actions on objectivistanswers.com, though.

Maybe some Objectivists are forming a Galt's Gulch, and you (and me) are just the Eddie Willers of the world, too dumb and useless to have yet been let in on the plan.

(Dec 19 '13 at 12:04) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Good first point, Anthony. But, regarding your second comment, the only person who decides whether you are an Eddie Willer, or not, is you.

(Dec 19 '13 at 12:13) MarcMercier ♦ MarcMercier's gravatar image

Eddie Willers wasn't stupid but, as a character, he chose to be an employee rather than a prime mover. Many will choose that, which is fine, but it is a self-determined choice none the less.

(Dec 19 '13 at 15:04) MarcMercier ♦ MarcMercier's gravatar image

OK, well, I didn't read things the same way, and I'm not sure if Rand has ever commented on it or not.

(Dec 19 '13 at 15:32) anthony anthony's gravatar image

In my opinion, as an Objectivist, one shouldn't use Rand's writings in the way that Christians use the bible. She has laid out the philosophic principles, but they need to be understood, interpreted and applied rather than seeking to find out what she said in every circumstance and on every topic. Often, when I make a decision on a particular issue, applying the principles as I understand them, I later come to find out that Rand actually did comment on the topic and her views were in-line with my conclusions. In that way, I know I am applying reason clearly on my own. Cheers!

(Dec 19 '13 at 15:49) MarcMercier ♦ MarcMercier's gravatar image

I don't see any relation between the way that Christians use the bible, and being interested in what the author of a novel meant to portray with a particular fictional character.

In any case, those who are interested in the latter might be interested in http://www.peikoff.com/2010/11/15/spoiler-alert-why-did-ayn-rand-leave-eddie-willers-as-she-did-at-the-end-of-the-novel/

Note that in addition to a spoiler about Atlas Shrugged this contains a spoiler about We the Living.

(Dec 19 '13 at 19:07) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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Asked: Dec 13 '13 at 14:26

Seen: 1,961 times

Last updated: Dec 19 '13 at 19:08