The Argument from Intimidation: A Confession of Intellectual Impotence - The Objective Standard

Note: This essay is included in the anthology Rational Egoism: The Morality for Human Flourishing, which makes an excellent gift and is available at Amazon.com.

Have you heard?

  • “Only a fool would deny that climate change is leading to disaster.”
  • “Only a xenophobe would advocate the screening of immigrants.”
  • “There can be no honest denial of the existence of God.”
  • “There can be no honest acceptance of the existence of God.”
  • “Only a misogynist would deny a woman’s right to abortion.”
  • “Only a philistine could fail to see the profundity of Duchamp.”
  • “Only an idiot would vote for Trump.”

Such assertions rarely are made so bluntly or forthrightly. More often they are insinuated (“Really? You don’t get Duchamp?”) or conveyed via facial expressions or other nonverbal means (a grimace, a glare, a wide-eyed stare). But you no doubt have heard such claims and encountered such expressions in one form or another. And you likely have seen people back down or change their positions in response.

Why? What’s going on here? . . .

Endnotes

1. Ayn Rand, “From My ‘Future File,’” in The Ayn Rand Letter 3, no. 66 (September 23, 1974).

2. Ayn Rand, “The Argument from Intimidation,” in The Virtue of Selfishness, 162–63.

3. Paul Krugman, “Galt, Gold and God,” New York Times, August 23, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/24/opinion/krugman-galt-gold-and-god.html.

4. Kevin D. Williamson, “The Parochial Progressive Obsession with Ayn Rand,” National Review, December 14, 2016, https://www.nationalreview.com/2016/12/progressive-ayn-rand-obsession-misguided/.

5. Heidi N. Moore, “Capitalism Shrugged: Should Ayn Rand Be Required Reading?,” Wall Street Journal, April 11, 2008, https://blogs.wsj.com/deals/2008/04/11/capitalism-shrugged-should-ayn-rand-be-required-reading/.

6. John Gray, “Atheism Wars,” Playboy, April 2013, 49–53.

7. Rand did not reject compassion. She rejected compassion toward the morally guilty. As she put it, “I regard compassion as proper only toward those who are innocent victims, but not toward those who are morally guilty. If one feels compassion for the victims of a concentration camp, one cannot feel it for the torturers. If one does feel compassion for the torturers, it is an act of moral treason toward the victims.” [“Playboy Interview: Ayn Rand,” interviewed by Alvin Toffler, Playboy, March 1964, 35–43.]

8. Sam Harris, How to Lose Readers (Without Even Trying), SamHarris.org, August 24, 2011, https://samharris.org/how-to-lose-readers-without-even-trying/.

9. Rand, “The Argument from Intimidation,” 164.

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