It’s not hypocrisy if you don’t like it

Word has it that Paul Ryan, the respondent to the SOTU address, is a major fan of hack philosopher and confuser of undergraduates Ayn Rand such that he distributes copies of her works to staffers and credits her work with his desire to go into public service.

With Ryan and Rand Paul and everything, Ayn Rand, the original, has undergone somewhat of a renaissance lately.  This is really sad, as there seriously have to be more worthy versions of libertarianism on which to base one’s opposition to Obama’s extremely socialist agenda.

With renewed interest there will naturally be renewed scrutiny (and reawkened revulsion).  Along these lines someone has discovered (or made up I’m not sure which) that Ayn Rand and her husband received Social Security benefits.  This is supposed to be some kind of hilarious contradiction.  It’s not really.  You pay in to SS and get money out.  That’s the way it works.  You’re entitled to it because it’s yours.  They even keep track of it.  Now some might get more than they pay in, and whether Rand did is open and somewhat uninteresting question, but that’s another matter.

What is hilarious, I think, is what issues forth by way of justification for participation in public benefits.  Via someone’s attempt to support Rand’s view, here’s what she had to say about public scholarships (which has to be on the minds of all of those young Randians who get them, who attend public colleges, etc.):

A different principle and different considerations are involved in the case of public (i.e., governmental) scholarships. The right to accept them rests on the right of the victims to the property (or some part of it) which was taken from them by force.

The recipient of a public scholarship is morally justified only so long as he regards it as restitution and opposes all forms of welfare statism. Those who advocate public scholarships, have no right to them; those who oppose them, have. If this sounds like a paradox, the fault lies in the moral contradictions of welfare statism, not in its victims.

Since there is no such thing as the right of some men to vote away the rights of others, and no such thing as the right of the government to seize the property of some men for the unearned benefit of others—the advocates and supporters of the welfare state are morally guilty of robbing their opponents, and the fact that the robbery is legalized makes it morally worse, not better. The victims do not have to add self-inflicted martyrdom to the injury done to them by others; they do not have to let the looters profit doubly, by letting them distribute the money exclusively to the parasites who clamored for it. Whenever the welfare-state laws offer them some small restitution, the victims should take it . . . .

Again, in the case of Social Security (and medicare) this makes sense (though it remains a ridiculous justification–there is no way an average elderly person could possibly pay the private cost of medical insurance or health care nowadays)–but in the case of money simply gifted to you (or provided you in the form of deeply subsidized federal loans) it doesn’t.  Being morally opposed to receiving others’ stolen money, yet taking it anyway, thinking your moral opposition to it absolves you of hypocrisy makes you a double hypocrite: you’re a hypocrite for violating your own principles and you’re a hypocrite for thinking your moral opposition to an action you engage in and profit from makes you not a hypocrite.

17 thoughts on “It’s not hypocrisy if you don’t like it”

  1. The only way this could possibly make sense is if Rand is claiming that individuals opposed to welfare statism are also the individuals who have been robbed of their own private property. So, they're just getting their money back. But I don't think that's what she's saying…

  2. Jem and John,

    Jem's right: this response could make sense if Rand is portraying the justifiability of accepting public funds as a form of compensation. Jem's not sure if this is what Rand says. And she's not helped by the fact that *John has selectively quoted Rand's text* to ignore the place where she says precisely that:
    "The right to accept them rests on the right of the victims to the property (or some part of it) which was taken from them by force."

    This is in the paragraph just prior to the excerpt John quotes! I would offer this as a kind correction if it weren't for the fact that this blog is called Non-Sequitor, and quoting out of context is as classic a logical fallacy as one can imagine.
    I was one of those Randian undergrads by the way. Now I have a Ph.D. and teach philosophy. I'm still a Randian.

  3. Thanks for that NS, and I read that passage and linked to it, so I'm not trying to hide anything.  I take the beginning of the quotation to introduce a different point ("a different principle and different considerations. . . ").  This means *you* are the one misreading Rand.

    Anyhoo, I suppose the only way one can receive a public scholarship is if one has already paid something in taxes roughly equivalent to the total amount taken.  But that is clearly not what she is saying (as Jem points out).  Besides, such a person would likely not need a public scholarhship (or publicly backed student loans, etc.). 

  4. I think the context of this passage is sufficient to show that Rand did not say what you think she said, NS:
    Those who advocate public scholarships, have no right to them; those who oppose them, have. If this sounds like a paradox, the fault lies in the moral contradictions of welfare statism, not in its victims.
    What possible paradox could there be if Rand is merely saying that the only people who have a right to public scholarships are those who have paid the government an equivalent amount? It sounds to me like Rand is saying that simply being opposed to welfare statism grants one the right to receive public funds, since the opponent to welfare statism is a victim of some sort fand deserves restitution. This does not seem paradoxical, just weird. For, it is possible that one could both be for public scholarships and also have paid dearly into the welfare state. Now, would Rand claim that this individual has no right to public funds given that this person is for the welfare state and has also paid more than his or her fair share of taxes? If so, that would not be a paradox but merely irrational.

  5. NS, how are you qualifying the "right of the victims to the property"?  It seems a bit unfair to suggest there is a flat level of need in our system of society.  For example, as far as education goes, some are much more able to afford to pay for the outrageous debt load one undertakes in some cases.  However, if they are exemplar students, shouldn't they be financially compensated from some sort of fund?  I'd venture that your PHD might have possible been defrayed slightly by departmental funds, although I could be mistaken.
    Trying to pretend that there isn't a massive wealth gap that's been increasing since Miss Rand was around is a bit of a joke.  If there is such a gap, then how are we to pretend that what the government "steals" (takes by force) with tax is such a terrifying prospect that we should reclaim as much as possible?  It makes zero sense for someone with wealth to provide a scholarship, or finance a public university, then expect to game the system back for the funds used.  Trying to justify that there its acceptable to absorb public funds to advance yourself privately, does not mesh with a concept of being self sufficient.
    It seems to be more likely Rand was writing to her audience.  The more intellectuals who get through school supported by public funds, the greater the numbers of her supports will be lent authority by society.  That and her morality is massively skewed, but that's another issue.

  6. Yes Jem that seems like a reasonable interpretation.  Being charitable to Rand here I think entails us reading her that way, otherwise she's simply made the point that you have a right to what you pay in.  This, by the way, would be consistent with what any social democrat would say–you put into a system, or you will put into a system–so you can take out; you take out of a system (say because your massive oil wealth is premised on a robust military, a system of communication, police, courts, roads, etc.) so you pay in to that system proportionately.  Seriously, if Rand is saying you have right to scholarships to the extent that you have been "robbed" (please) in taxes, then you'd have to have a right to only that which you paid in.  But not, of course, the total amount of taxes you have ever paid, but rather only the proportion of taxes dedicated to, say, public higher education (and not social security, welfare, roads, the military, NHS, the salaries of Congresspeople, etc.).  That view, I think, would be ludicrous.

    One more thing, NS, since you're a colleague.  You probably can tell that the move from "x has misinterpreted y's position" to "x has selectively edited y's position in order more easily to defeat it" requires added justification.  Besides, that accusation, I think in this circumstance at least, is uncollegial.  I can tell that you've been around here before, and you ought to know that I can respond, withdraw, or clarify remarks.  So there's no reason, dear colleague, to draw the conclusion that the Non Sequitur is some kind of massive argument analysis FAIL. 

    Having said that, maybe you're offended that I think Rand is some kind of philosophical joke.  I do.  But I haven't argued for that position here.  And that conclusion was not the point of the post.

  7. Does anyone else feel a little squeamish talking about any one individual or even a group of individuals having a "right" to public scholarships?  Seems like the decision to have them at all is a matter of public policy that could go either way, and then setting the criteria once you decide to have the program is also a matter of public policy.  I suspect her use of the term "right" is a deliberate attempt to load up and unbalance the discussion.

  8. Hi John,

    I think she means to claim that you only have a right to what is directly and literally yours.  However, many young underfunded objectivists aren't rich (yet), so they're going to have to take scholarships.  Therefore, they will have to accept the stolen property of others (via taxes, etc.). 

    Whole thing is a lot easier if we repeat, with Aristotle, "to on dicitur multipliciter. . . "

  9. The way I read it is that you only have a "right" to this particular benefit if you happen to share her view of the world. 

  10. Right.  That's the way that makes the most sense of the context, etc.  It only makes no sense of everything else.

  11. Ah glad I came back to this site to read this one.  Very glad that NS could point out how you purposefully selectively quoted Rand, John Casey.  I enjoyed that almost as much as the back flips you've been going through in this comments section to try and make it look like that's not what you were doing.  Keep preaching to the converted, nobody buys those tricks other than people who want to agree with you anyways.

  12. Andrew,

    your reading skills remain poor.  I haven't altered my initial interpretation.  If there's some compelling reason to do so, then please tell me.   

  13. Again, I don't see how Rand's point can be taken in another way:
    The recipient of a public scholarship is morally justified only so long as he regards it as restitution and opposes all forms of welfare statism.
    Clearly, Rand thinks that one's stance to receiving the money is what justifies taking it. John hasn't taken the quote out of context, since the context is right there for any competent language user to see.

  14. Why is she willing to allow that the restitution of your stolen goods is justified (in this instance) only if you approach the situation with the prior convictions that (1) it is merely restitution of your property and (2) you are opposed welfare statism in all forms? As Jem points out this is, at best, just weird–but it also seems to grate against objectivism.     
    If she is correct to assert that your property was taken from you illegitimately by the government and she is further correct to claim that this is theft of your property, then why would it be “legitimate restitution” only if you hold certain beliefs about that theft?  Based on my loose understanding of Rand, the claims “this is theft of your property” and “this is a form of legitimate restitution” should be objective fact about the situation and the objective truth of it all has nothing to do with any subjective beliefs you might hold—that is, it is theft regardless of what you believe about it and if it is morally legitimate to take money from the state as restoration of that theft, that should have nothing to do with how you subjectively interpret that activity. 
    My point, and assuming I actually understand Rand’s larger philosophy (no easy task), is that she seems to make an appeal here that is not very “objectivist” in its thinking. 

  15. Sorry about the mess above–apparently posting from a word doc doesn't work very well.  I would edit it but I don't see that as an option.

  16. Having served in the US NAVY from 1984 – 1988, I now use the Illinois Veterans Grant (IVG) to pay for my Bachelor's degree.
    If I understand the "Randian" point of view, I have one question…
    I have served my country, which gives me this benefit. I use it to its fullest extent, but since I have not paid any money into the system, or had my property stolen from me (I volunteered, I was not drafted), should I reject the IVG, which would then make it impossible for me to finish school?
    I would like to know if I am seeing this from the wrong perspective.

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