“When you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing—when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors—when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you—when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice—you may know that your society is doomed.”
Ayn Rand; Atlas Shrugged, 1957
Pretty strong words… the last four, in particular.
Ayn Rand knew whereof she spoke. Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1905, she became politically conscious while still a child and did not favour the existing concept of constitutional monarchy. So, it would not have been surprising if, when the Russian revolution broke out when she was twelve, she bought into the proselytising of Vladimir Lenin, as so many did at that time.
Instead, she quickly surmised that the Bolsheviks’ claim to improve life for the average man was, in reality, a plan to diminish the quality of life for all of the people. In doing so, the Bolsheviks confiscated her father’s business and displaced her family. At one point they were nearly starving, but in 1925, she received permission to emigrate to the US. (She later attempted to get her parents and sisters out, but it proved to be too late.)
A Lesson Hard-Learned
In establishing her now well-known beliefs in governmental systems, Ayn Rand had the benefit of having observed the entire progression from a relatively benign monarchical system to totalitarianism. As a result, she not only learned that political leaders can be deceitful in their claims for social improvement, she also learned, first hand, that those leaders (and/or hopeful leaders) who promise that they are going to change the system in such a way that everyone will “have all they need,” are the most deceitful of all.
In my opinion, the greatest possible threat from the fanciful claims by politicians lies in the willingness of the populace to actually believe such claims. Sadly, it does seem as though the majority of people in any country tend to be extraordinarily gullible in this regard.
The very idea that some method can be found that would make it possible to equalise all people is patently ludicrous. There will always be differences in intellect, talent, and ambition from one individual to the next. The idea that any government should somehow enforce the more gifted or more motivated to continually give up the fruits of their efforts, whilst giving those fruits to others who are less gifted and less motivated is, by definition, unworkable.
The Obvious Choice
Such an idea, whether we consider it laudable or not, cannot ultimately succeed. The most that can be expected is that the idea could successfully be enforced, which would result, eventually, in the gifted and motivated ceasing to make the necessary effort to excel. And, of course, in socialist countries, this is what, over time, we see take place.
There is a direct relationship between the degree of “redistribution” by the government and the decline in effort by the gifted or motivated.
Still, there will always exist those who are less gifted or less motivated who will want to believe that political leaders can somehow make this impossible concept a reality. And of course, these people can fully be expected to vote for, or otherwise support, those who make such empty promises.
Therefore, the realisation that should be taken away from this discussion is that, over time, it is perfectly predictable that a given government might ultimately go in a direction of self-destruction, as it will be likely to pander to the majority, who seek such largesse at the expense of others.
What then, of the minority? What of those who are in that group of more gifted or more motivated people—the ones that do, historically, tend to push a society forward with their abilities and efforts?
They have a choice. They can “go with the flow,” should the country in question go into social and political decline; they can accept it and try to muddle through, as did Ayn Rand’s parents after the revolution. Or they can vote with their feet, as did Rand herself.
The results of these choices are plain: Zinovy and Anna Rosenbaum disappeared into Soviet obscurity, whilst daughter Ayn escaped to become a novelist in a freer and more inspiring country: the US.
This scenario repeated itself in Germany and Austria in the 1930s, when such notables as Albert Einstein, Friedrich Hayek, and Ludwig Von Mises made their exits to the US, England, and Switzerland, respectively.
The Writing Is on the Wall
And so it has gone, throughout history. When the writing is on the wall that “the society is doomed,” most people invariably stick it out where they are, hoping either that “things will get better,” or at least, that “it won’t get too much worse.”
In George Orwell’s 1945 book, “Animal Farm,” the pigs convinced the other animals to revolt against the farmer, whom the pigs claimed was oppressing them. When the revolution succeeded, the animals proudly painted the words, “All animals are equal” on the barn. Later, under cover of darkness, the pigs changed the wording to, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”
This was literally the writing on the wall—the signal that the moment had arrived when the animals should have either overthrown the pigs or, if that was not possible, hopped the fence and skedaddled.
In real life, making this decision is quite a bit more difficult. However, it can be said that Ayn Rand made the task simpler for us. In the quote above, she offers the “writing on the wall.” It only remains to us to decide whether the point she describes has been reached. We can assume that, if we are presently living in a country that matches her description, and it remains possible at present to make an exit, as she did in 1926, we would be well advised to do so.
Certainly, her parents mistakenly waited longer, and young Ayn was the only one who escaped the Soviet Union.
We cannot control the obsessive behaviour of tyrants. They will forever be amongst us, and the majority of people do tend to “go along” in the end, either through ignorance or in the false belief that they will somehow benefit from such tyranny.
Our one choice, therefore, is the one that was faced by Ayn Rand and her parents. They chose differently and their fates could not have diverged more as a result.