In a recent article over at TownHall.com, columnist Katie Kieffer argues that Ayn Rand’s economic philosophy of laissez-faire capitalism is compatible with Christianity. In building her argument, Ms. Kieffer makes a number of missteps worth discussing.
First and foremost, I take issue with Kieffer’s primary claim. Pure capitalism (which Ayn Rand advocated) and Christianity are not compatible. To understand why, we must first understand the moral foundations for each system. Let me begin with Christianity. Christianity is based on altruism – the moral philosophy that posits man’s self-sacrifice to others is moral and good. St. Aquinas himself, which Kieffer even quotes in her article, claimed that we should love our neighbor more than ourselves in his Summa Theologica. Christianity’s affinity for altruism goes as far back as Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plain. In large part, Rand’s rejection of religion in general and Christianity in particular was altruism, something Rand regarded as evil and self-destructive if practiced consistently.
Capitalism, however, rests on a different moral philosophy. In a true capitalistic society, individuals are free to trade with each other, value for value, on mutual grounds. Neither buyer nor seller act as master or slave, but instead as moral equals. This presupposes that men have individual rights sanctioning their life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness which can only be obtained by affirming one’s life as one’s highest value. Rand showed that in order to live, in order to obtain any value, reasoned action is required to gain and keep it. Man then plays the role of his own beneficiary, and that “any breach between actor and beneficiary necessitates an injustice: the sacrifice of some men to others, of the actors to the nonactors, of the moral to the immoral.”
Christianity accepts the morality of self-sacrifice, capitalism rejects it. Christianity necessitates selflessness, capitalism necessitates selfishness. Christianity places the welfare of others above one’s own, capitalism affirms man’s right to his own life. Kieffer makes the fatal error of attempting to marry Rand’s philosophical defense of capitalism with biblical altruism, when the two simply aren’t compatible.
Kieffer makes another error that is irresistible to ignore. In attempting to sooth fellow Christians of their contempt for Rand and her atheism, Kieffer says “If it is rational for Rand to believe (without proof) that God does not exist, it is also rational for a Christian to believe that God exists. Since both atheists and Christians are rational, atheism is unessential to being a capitalist.” This is a total misrepresentation of Rand’s atheism. Rand did not submit that her disbelief in God was an act of faith. In actuality, Rand strongly believed, based on metaphysical grounds, that a supernatural god does not exist. A full refutation of God’s existence is inappropriate here, but a brief argument in its favor is necessary.
Christian’s are quick to agree that God is not a natural creature floating somewhere in space and time. Being so would confine Him to natural laws of physics. God is necessarily supernatural, they claim. He exists beyond existence, beyond entities, beyond identity. However, Rand and her heirs were quick to point out that the very concept of the “supernatural” represents an attack on man’s knowledge – an assault on everything man knows about reality. “It is a contradiction of every essential of a rational metaphysics. It represents a rejection of the basic axioms of philosophy.” Keiffer champions reason, but ignores a major assault on reason – faith. Faith necessarily negates reason, to the follower’s detriment.
One last mistake by Keiffer is worth mentioning. “Rand,” she says, “may have been an atheist, but she embraced reason and natural law.” Rand’s conception of rights is far from naturalistic. We have rights, not because we are born with them or that they are innate within us. We have rights because they are necessary to survive in a social context. If we are to live our lives, enjoy liberty, and pursue our own happiness, we need the freedom to do so uninterrupted by others. Rights are then observations of reality and are dependent on context, not naturalistic abstractions that exist irrespective if you’re Saddam Hussein or Ayn Rand.
Ms. Keiffer is well-intentioned but severely misguided and lacking in understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of Rand’s philosophy. I would recommend a further study of Objectivism on her part, one that consists of both Rand’s fiction and nonfiction. Objectivism is no small pill to swallow; it is an entire philosophic system beginning with intense concepts such as metaphysics and epistemology which form the basis for others concepts like politics and economics. A rush to the later without an understanding of the former will make a fool out of anyone.