Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Battle of Wills: Barack Obama vs. Ayn Rand, A Debate by Chanda Chisala

Ayn Rand's capitalist, propertarian, freedom-focused philosophy was informed by her youth in the Soviet Union and her profound love for the society created by the founding documents of her adopted country, the United States. Her philosophy, objectivism, is acknowledged as a major influence on conservative and libertarian economic and political views

President Barack Obama campaigned and won office on a message that America needs to change profoundly, that businesses should be regulated and that redistribution of wealth is not only good, but the only just approach to the acquisition of wealth. He has publicly identified Ayn Rand's philosophy as the exact antithesis of his own.

In Barack Obama vs. Ayn Rand, author Chandra Chisala has done a masterful job of presenting these disparate viewpoints, using the published statements, essays, and other public views of the two debaters to compose their arguments on a variety of economic topics. This is an important aspect of the debate: the arrangement is Chisala's, but the arguments from each debater are their own words.

Chisala's own preferences are well-disguised by the careful selection of statement and response, so that the arguments are well-balanced between the debaters. This is no hack job using only weaker points from one side, against strong comebacks from the other.

Yet in the end, the author's choice of Ayn Rand to deliver the argument for self-determination, choice, and property rights reveals Chisala's prejudice. In Rand, he could not have chosen a stronger proponent for each citizen's right to retain their own wealth, choose their own careers, partake of their own poisons, and purchase (or forego purchasing) health insurance as they choose.

In short, to not change America to the kind of authoritarian, redistributive, socialist society Ayn Rand had fled as a young woman.

The debate as constructed by Chisala is not perfect. For example, to refute Obama's argument that "selflessness" is the height of morality, accepted as such by all religions, Chisala culls from a essay in which Rand responded to those who took issue with the title of her essay collection, The Virtue of Selfishness. The positioning of this argument makes it appear that Rand is appealing to the Gospels as an authority.

When I read the original essay, it came from a hot debate about whether Rand's title would serve to turn new readers away from her philosophy. Her response in that context was perfect. Here, it is disturbingly "Christian right" in tone, especially when you know that Rand herself was an atheist.

As to which wins the debate, I expect that those who read this intriguing effort will take away the same opinion they bring to the debate. Neither has been permitted an overwhelmingly persuasive argument.

And that is the best evidence that Chisala has done a very good job indeed.

#Review #AynRand #objectism

Photo of Ayn Rand taken by Phyllis Cerf with permission from her son Christopher Cerf, via Wikipedia
Photo of Barack Obama by Pete Souza - via Wikimedia Commons.