America has strayed far from her founding principles. In doing so, she has not become “great” or “just”; rather, she has become increasingly statist and unjust.
If we care about the American ideal, we must reverse this trend.
During the 2012 U.S. presidential race, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan labeled themselves “America’s Comeback Team”—a political tagline that would be great were it grounded in a philosophical base that gave it objective, moral meaning.* What, politically speaking, does America need to “come back” to? And what, culturally speaking, is necessary for the country to support that goal?
America was founded on the principle of individual rights—the idea that each individual is an end in himself and has a moral prerogative to live his own life (the right to life); to act on his own judgment, un-coerced by others, including government (liberty); to keep and use the product of his effort (property); and to pursue the values and goals of his choosing (pursuit of happiness).
Today, however, legal, regulatory, or bureaucratic obstacles involved in any effort to start or operate a business, to purchase health insurance, to plan for one’s retirement, to educate one’s children, to criticize Islam for advocating violence, or so much as to choose a lightbulb indicate how far we’ve strayed from that founding ideal.
If America is to make a comeback—and if what we are to come back to is recognition and protection of individual rights—then Americans must embrace more than a political tagline; we must embrace a philosophy that undergirds individual rights and that gives rise to a government that does one and only one thing: protects rights.
Although the philosophy of the Founding Fathers was sufficient ground on which to establish the Land of Liberty, it was not sufficient to maintain liberty. The founders advocated the principle of individual rights, but they did not fully understand the moral and philosophical foundations of that principle; they did not understand how rights are grounded in observable fact. Nor did the thinkers who followed them. This is why respect for rights has been eroding for more than a century.
If America is to “come back” to the recognition and protection of rights, Americans must discover and embrace the philosophical foundation that undergirds that ideal, the foundation that grounds the principle of rights in perceptual fact and gives rise to the principle that the only proper purpose of government is to protect rights by banning force from social relationships.
The philosophy that provides this foundation is Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism.
To see why, let us look at Rand’s philosophy in contrast to the predominant philosophies of the day: religion, the basic philosophy of conservatism; and subjectivism, the basic philosophy of modern “liberalism.” We’ll consider the essential views of each of these philosophies with respect to the nature of reality, man's means of knowledge, the nature of morality, the nature of rights, and the proper purpose of government. At each stage, we’ll highlight ways in which their respective positions support or undermine the ideal of liberty. . . .
You might also like
* This sentence originally was the opening line of the article and read: “Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have labeled themselves ‘America’s Comeback Team’—a political tagline that would be great were it grounded in a philosophical base that gave it objective, moral meaning.”
1 Richard Rorty, Achieving our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), p. 29. Rorty is here interpreting John Dewey and doing so favorably.
2 “From Logic to Language to Play,” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 59 (1986): pp. 747–53.
3 Rorty, Achieving our Country, p. 27. Rorty is here interpreting Walt Whitman and doing so favorably.
4 Richard Rorty, “The Next Left,” interview by Scott Stossel, Atlantic Unbound, April 23, 1998.
5 Richard Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982), p. xlii.
6 Rand’s induction of this principle involves several steps; for details see Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” in The Virtue of Selfishness (New York: Signet, 1962); or Craig Biddle, Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It (Richmond: Glen Allen Press, 2002).
7 Robert C. Mortimer, Christian Ethics (London: Hutchinson’s University Library, 1950), p. 8.
8 “St. Gregory’s Pastoral Rule [chapter XXI]” in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church; Socrates, Sozomenus Church Histories (1890), edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace.
9 Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” p. 13.
10 Ayn Rand, For the New Intellectual, (New York: Signet, 1963), p. 123.
11 Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” pp. 27–28.
12 Cf. Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (New York: Meridian, 1993), p. 276.
13 Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” p. 28.
14 For a detailed overview of the Objectivist virtues, see Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics”; or Biddle, Loving Life, chapter 6, “Objective Moral Virtues: Principled Actions.”
15 To learn more about America’s Comeback Philosophy, read Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged and her nonfiction books The Virtue of Selfishness, Philosophy: Who Needs It, and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.